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2. The country, its people and quality of life

2.3 Political institutions

Spain is a parliamentary monarchy. The King is the Head of State4 and his primary mission is to arbitrate and moderate the correct functioning of the country’s institutions in accordance with the Constitution. He also formally ratifies the appointment or designation of the highest holders of public office in the legislative, executive and judicial branches5.

The Constitution of 1978 enshrined the fundamental civil rights and public freedoms as well as assigning legislative power to the Cortes Generales (Parliament)6, executive power to the Government of the nation, and judicial powers to independent judges and magistrates.

The responsibility for enacting laws is entrusted to the Cortes Generales, comprising the Congreso de los Diputados (Lower House of Parliament) and the Senado (Senate), the members of which are elected by universal suffrage every four years.

The Cortes Generales exercise the legislative power of the nation, approve the annual State budgets, control the actions of the Government and ratify international treaties.

The Government7 is headed by the Presidente del Gobierno (President of the Government) who is elected by the Cortes Generales and is, in turn, in charge of electing the members of the Consejo de Ministros (Council of Ministers).

The members of the Council of Ministers are appointed and removed by the President of the Government at his or her discretion.

For administrative purposes, Spain is organized into 17 Autonomous Communities (Regions) each of which generally comprises one or more provinces, plus the Autonomous Cities of Ceuta and Melilla in Northern Africa and the total number of provinces is 50.

Each Autonomous Community (Region) exercises the powers assigned to it by the Constitution as specified in its “Statute of Autonomy”. These Statutes also stipulate the institutional organization of the Community concerned, consisting generally of: a legislative assembly elected by universal suffrage, which enacts legislation applicable in the Community; a Government with executive and administrative functions, headed by a President elected by the Assembly, who is the Community’s highest representative; and a Superior Court of Justice, in which judicial power in the Community’s territory is vested. A Delegate appointed by the Central Government directs the Administration of the State in the Autonomous Community (Region), and co-ordinates it with the Community’s administration.

The Autonomous Communities (Regions) are financially autonomous and also receive allocations from the general State budgets.

As a result of the structure described above Spain has become one of the most decentralized countries in Europe.