Cortes Generales


The Cortes Generales (; en, Spanish Parliament, lit=General Courts) are the s of , consisting of the (the ), and the (the ). The Congress of Deputies meets in the . The Senate meets in the . Both are in . The Cortes are elected through universal, free, equal, direct and secret , with the exception of some senatorial seats, which are elected indirectly by the legislatures of the . The Cortes Generales are composed of 616 members: 350 Deputies and 265 Senators. The members of the Cortes Generales serve four-year terms, and they are representatives of the Spanish people. In both chambers, the seats are divided by constituencies that correspond with the of Spain, plus and . However, the and islands form different constituencies in the Senate. As a , the Cortes confirm and dismiss the and his or her ; specifically, the candidate for Prime Minister has to be invested by the Congress with a majority of affirmative votes. The Congress can also dismiss the Prime Minister through a . The Cortes also hold the power to enact a constitutional reform. The modern Cortes Generales were created by the , but the institution has a long history.

History of the Spanish legislature

Feudal Age (8th–12th centuries)

The system of ''Cortes'' arose in The as part of . A "Corte" was an advisory council made up of the most powerful s closest to the king. The was the first parliamentary body in Western Europe. From 1230, the Cortes of Leon and Castile were merged, though the Cortes' power was decreasing. Prelates, nobles and commoners remained separated in the three estates within the Cortes. The king had the ability to call and dismiss the Cortes, but, as the lords of the Cortes headed the army and controlled the purse, the King usually signed with them to pass bills for war at the cost of concessions to the lords and the Cortes.

Rise of the bourgeoisie (12th–15th centuries)

With the reappearance of the cities near the 12th century, a new started to grow: people living in the cities were ''neither'' s (servants of feudal lords) ''nor'' nobles themselves. Furthermore, the nobles were experiencing very hard economic times due to the ; so now the (Spanish ', from ''burgo'', city) had the money and thus the power. So the King started admitting representatives from the cities to the Cortes in order to get more money for the Reconquista. The frequent payoffs were the "s", grants of autonomy to the cities and their inhabitants. At this time the Cortes already had the power to oppose the King's decisions, thus effectively vetoing them. In addition, some representatives (elected from the Cortes members by itself) were permanent advisors to the King, even when the Cortes were not.

Catholic Monarchs (15th century)

and , the , started a specific policy to diminish the power of the bourgeoisie and nobility. They greatly reduced the powers of the Cortes to the point where they simply the monarch's acts, and brought the nobility to their side. One of the major points of friction between the Cortes and the monarchs was the power of raising and lowering taxes. It was the only matter that the Cortes had under some direct control; when Queen Isabella wanted to fund , she had a hard time battling with the bourgeoisie to get the Cortes' approval.

Imperial Cortes (16th–17th centuries)

The role of the Cortes during the was mainly to rubberstamp the decisions of the ruling monarch. However, they had some power over economic and American affairs, especially taxes. The ', the Spanish Golden Age of arts and literature, was a dark age in Spanish politics: the Netherlands declared itself independent and started a war, while some of the last monarchs did not rule the country, leaving this task in the hands of s governing in their name, the most famous being the , 's deputy. This allowed the Cortes to become more influential, even when they did not directly oppose the King's decisions (or prime minister' decisions in the name of the King). The institutions in charge of enforcing the decisions of the Imperial Cortes was the ''Diputación General de Cortes'', a body of representatives elected by the different . The ''Diputación'' dealt with the implementetion of previous agreements and the collection of taxes. This was established after the to improve the relationship between the king and the local assemblies. There were also Diputaciones in the Kingdoms of Aragon and Navarre.

Cortes in Aragon and in Navarre

Some lands of the (, and ) and the were self-governing entities until the of 1716 abolished their autonomy and united Aragon with Castile in a centralised Spanish state. The abolition in the realms of Aragon was completed by 1716, whilst Navarre retained its autonomy until the . It is the only one of the Spanish territories whose current status in the Spanish state is legally linked with the old s: its specifically cites them and recognizes their special status, while also recognizing the supremacy of the Spanish Constitution. Cortes (or ''Corts'' in Catalonia and Valencia) existed in each of , , and . It is thought that these legislatures exercised more real power over local affairs than the Castilian Cortes did. Executive councils also existed in each of these realms, which were initially tasked with overseeing the implementation of decisions made by the Cortes.

Cádiz Cortes (1808–14) and three liberal years (1820–23)

operated as a government in exile. France under had taken control of most of Spain during the after 1808. The Cortes found refuge in the fortified, coastal city of . General Cortes were assembled in Cádiz, but since many provinces could not send representatives due to the French occupation, substitutes were chosen among the people of the city – thus the name Congress of Deputies. Liberal factions dominated the body and pushed through the . , however, tossed it aside upon his restoration in 1814 and pursued conservative policies, making the constitution an icon for liberal movements in Spain. Many military coups were attempted, and finally Col. 's one succeeded and forced the King to accept the liberal constitution, which resulted in the Three Liberal Years (). The monarch not only did everything he could to obstruct the Government (vetoing nearly every law, for instance), but also asked many powers, including the , to invade his own country and restore his absolutist powers. He finally received a French army () which only met resistance in the liberal cities, but easily crushed the National Militia and forced many liberals to exile to, ironically, France. In his second absolutist period up to his death in 1833, Ferdinand VII was more cautious and did not try a full restoration of the .

First Spanish Republic (1873–1874)

When the monarchy was overthrown in 1873, the was forced into exile. The was abolished because of its royally appointed nature. A republic was proclaimed and the members started writing a Constitution, supposedly that of a , with the power of Parliament being nearly supreme (see , although Spain did not use the ). However, due to numerous issues Spain was not poised to become a republic; after several crises the republic collapsed, and the monarchy was restored in 1874.

Restoration (1874–1930)

The regime just after the First Republic is called the . It was formally a , with the monarch as a to the Cortes' acts but with some reserve powers, such as appointing and dismissing the Prime Minister and appointing senators for the new , remade as an elected House. Soon after the (1917), the Spanish political parties started polarizing, and the left-wing (PCE) and (PSOE) blamed the Government for supposed election fraud in small towns ('), which was incorrectly supposed to have been wiped out in the 1900s by the failed ''regenerationist'' movement. In the meantime, spiralling violence started with the murders of many leaders by both sides. Deprived of those leaders, the regime entered a general crisis, with extreme police measures which led to a dictatorship (1921–1930) during which the Senate was again abolished.

Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939)

The dictatorship, now ruled by Admiral , called for local elections. The results were overwhelmingly favorable to the monarchist cause nationally, but most provincial capitals and other sizable cities sided heavily with the republicans. This was interpreted as a victory, as the rural results were under the always-present suspicion of ''caciquismo'' and other irregularities while the urban results were harder to influence. The King left Spain, and a Republic was declared on April 14, 1931. The Second Spanish Republic was established as a , with a Parliament and a President of the Republic as the . Among his powers were the appointment and dismissal of the , either on the advice of Parliament or just having consulted it before, and a limited power to dissolve the Parliament and call for new elections. The first term was the constituent term charged with creating the new , with the ex-monarchist leader as President of the Republic and the left-wing leader as Prime Minister. The gave a majority in the and thus, the Government, to a coalition between Azaña's and the PSOE. A remarkable deed is , allowing women to vote, a provision highly criticized by Socialist leader , who said the Republic had been backstabbed. Also, for the second time in Spanish history, some regions were granted autonomous governments within the unitary state. Many on the extreme right rose up with General in 1932 against the Government's social policies, but the coup was quickly defeated. The elections for the second term and won by the coalition between the Radical Party () and the (CEDA) (). Initially, only the Radical Party entered the Government, with the parliamentary support of the CEDA. However, in the middle of the term, several corruption scandals (among them the affair) sunk the Radical Party and the CEDA entered the Government in 1934. This led to uprisings by some leftist parties that were quickly suffocated. In one of them, the left wing government of Catalonia, which had been granted home rule, formally rebelled against the central government, denying its power. This provoked the dissolution of the and the imprisonment of their leaders. The leftist minority in the Cortes then pressed Alcalá Zamora for a dissolution, arguing that the uprising were the consequence of social rejection of the right-wing government. The President, a former monarchist Minister wary of the authoritarism of the right, dissolved Parliament. The was held in 1936. It was hotly contested, with all parties converging into three coalitions: the leftist , the right-winged and a Centre coalition. In the end, the Popular Front won with a small edge in votes over the runner-up National Front, but achieved a solid majority due to the new electoral system introduced by the CEDA government hoping that ''they'' would get the edge in votes. The new Parliament then dismissed Alcalá-Zamora and installed in his place. During the third term, the extreme polarisation of the Spanish society was more evident than ever in Parliament, with confrontation reaching the level of death threats. The already bad political and social climate created by the long term left-right confrontation worsened, and many right-wing rebellions were started. Then, in 1936, the Army's failed coup degenerated into the , putting an end to the Second Republic.

Franco's dictatorship: the Cortes Españolas (1943–1977)

did not have the creation of a consultative or legislative type of assembly as priority. In 1942, following the first symptoms of change in the international panorama in favour of the , a law established the Cortes Españolas (Francoist Cortes), a non-democratic chamber made up of more than 400 ''procuradores'' (singular ''procurador''). Both the Cortes' founding law and the subsequent regulations were based on the principles of rejection of parliamentarism and political pluralism. Members of the Cortes were not elected and exercised only symbolic power. It had no power over government spending, and the cabinet, appointed and dismissed by Franco alone, retained real legislative authority. In 1967, with the enaction of the , the accommodation of "two family representatives per province, elected by those on the electoral roll of and married women" (the so-called ''tercio familiar'') ensued, opening a fraction of the Cortes' composition to some mechanisms of individual participation.

Cortes Generales under the Constitution of 1978

The Cortes are a bicameral parliament composed of a lower house (, ''congress of deputies'') and an upper house (, ''senate''). Although they share legislative power, the Congress holds the power to ultimately override any decision of the Senate by a sufficient majority (usually an or ). The Congress is composed of 350 deputies (but that figure may change in the future as the constitution establishes a maximum of 400 and a minimum of 300) directly elected by universal suffrage approximately every four years. The Senate is partly directly elected in that four senators per province are elected as a general rule and partly appointed by the legislative assemblies of the , one for each community and another one for every million inhabitants in their territory. Although the Senate was conceived as a territorial upper house, it has been argued by nationalist parties and the that it does not accomplish such a task because 208 out of 265 members of the Senate are elected by popular vote in each province, and only 58 are representatives appointed by the regional legislatures of autonomous communities. Proposals to reform the Senate have been discussed for at least ten years as of November 2007. One of the main themes of reform is to move towards a higher level of and make the Senate a thorough representation of autonomous communities instead of the current system, which tries to incorporate the interests of province and autonomous communities at the same time. Presidents of the Cortes Generales since the restoration of democracy in Spain are:

Joint Committees

See also

* * *



Further reading

* ttp:// Constitución Española, Título III, ''De las Cortes Generales'', 1978

External links

* {{Authority control National legislatures, Spain