Overview and context
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Spain is a Parliamentary Monarchy. The King is the Head of State and exercises the functions attributed in the Constitution and the laws. The Constitution defines Spain as a unitary State, but guarantees autonomy for nationalities and regions.
The Spanish Parliament is divided in two chambers: the Congress of Deputies with popular representation, and the Senate with territorial representation. The last regular parliamentary election was held in December 2015 but as no party gained the majority, the Parliament was dissolved and new election held in June 2016, the next is expected for 2020. Both Chambers convene in Plenary Sessions and in Commissions. Assemblies of the Autonomous Communities may ask the government to adopt a bill or send an act of proposal to the Board of the Congress. Popular initiatives require at least 500,000 signatures and cannot introduce legislation dealing with issues reserved to Organic Laws or regarding taxes, international affairs and the prerogative of pardon. The government can introduce bill proposals, which are approved by the Council of Ministers and submitted to the Congress.
The Spanish legal system is hierarchical, so norms of a lower rank cannot override rules of a higher one. The ranking, from higher to lower level, is:
- Organic Laws – regulate the exercise of fundamental rights and public liberties; statutes of autonomy; the general electoral system; the State ombudsman; the Council of State; the Constitutional Court; and popular legislative initiative. Organic Laws require an absolute majority of Congress in a final vote of the entire bill for their approval, modification or repeal
- Ordinary Laws deal with all subject matters not reserved to organic laws. They are initiated in Congress. After approval, bills are discussed in the Senate, which may approve, amend or veto them. Congress has the final decision. Ordinary Laws require a simple majority.
- Decree-Laws are provisional rules issued for extraordinary and urgent matters. Congress must ratify them within a period of 30 days.
- Legislative Decrees are issued by the executive as a result of a delegation from Parliament and they also rank as laws.
- Regulations are ranked below acts and refer to any general rule given by the executive power in order to regulate their own institution and procedures.
Autonomous Communities may issue Ordinary Laws, Legislative Decrees, Decrees-Acts, and Regulations. Central government’s rules prevail if they apply to the matter regulated.
In addition, the central executive can issue Decrees from the Council of Ministers; Orders from the Ministers or Delegated Commissions; and Instructions and Orders of Regulation from lower authorities and high officials of public administration.
The King sanctions the acts approved by the Parliament within 15 days, promulgates them, and orders their publication. The acts are then published in the Spanish Official Gazette.