The Senate (Spanish: Senado) is the upper house of Spain's parliament, the Cortes Generales. It is made up of 265 members: 208 elected by popular vote, and 57 appointed by the regional legislatures. All senators serve four-year terms, though regional legislatures may recall their appointees at any time.
The Senate was first established under the constitution of 1837 under the regency of Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies. It remained under the regimes of the constitutions of 1845, 1856, 1869 and 1876. It was composed, at that latter time, of three main categories: senators by their own right, senators for life and senators elected. This chamber, along with the Congress of Deputies, was suppressed after the coup of General Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1923.
Only after the Spanish transition to democracy in 1978 was it reestablished.
Senators form groups along party lines. Parties with fewer than ten senators form the Mixed Group. If the membership of an existing group falls below six during a session, it is merged into the Mixed Group at the next session. For example, Coalición Canaria lost its senate caucus in 2008 after electoral losses reduced its group from six to two. The Basque Nationalist Party, falling from seven to four, "borrowed" senators from the ruling Socialist Party to form their group; in exchange, they supported the election of socialist Javier Rojo as President of the Senate. The PNV group is again under threshold after returning the borrowed Socialists, and it faces dissolution after the current session.
Legally, 133 seats are required for an absolute majority, vacant seats notwithstanding.
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To date, senate elections have coincided with elections to the lower house, but the President of the Government (i.e., the Prime Minister) may legally advise the king to call elections for one chamber only, under article 115 of the Spanish Constitution. While the Congress of Deputies is chosen by party list proportional representation, the members of the senate are chosen in two distinct ways: popular election by limited voting and appointment from regional legislatures.
Most members of the senate (currently 208 of 266) are directly elected by the people. Each province elects four senators without regard to population. Insular provinces are treated specially. The larger islands of the Balearics (Baleares) and Canaries (Canarias)—Mallorca, Gran Canaria, and Tenerife—are assigned three seats each, and the smaller islands—Menorca, Ibiza–Formentera, Fuerteventura, Gomera, Hierro, Lanzarote and La Palma—one each; Ceuta and Melilla are assigned two seats each. This allocation is heavily weighted in favor of small provinces; Madrid, with roughly 6 million people, and Soria, with 100,000 inhabitants, are each represented by four senators.
In non-insular constituencies, each party nominates three candidates. Candidates' names are organized in columns by party on a large (DIN A3 or larger) ochre-colored ballot called a sábana or bedsheet.
Each voter may mark up to three candidates' names, from any party. This is the only occasion when Spanish voters vote for individuals rather than a party list. Panachage is allowed, but typically voters cast all three votes for candidates of a single party. As a result, the four Senators are usually the three candidates from the most popular party and the first placed candidate from the next most popular.
Before 2011, a party could not choose the order of its candidates on the ballot paper; candidates were sorted alphabetically by surname. When a party did not get all three of its candidates elected, this arrangement favored candidates with surnames early in the alphabet. This was the case for 2nd placed parties in every province and for both parties in tight races when voters did not vote for three candidates of the same party (panachage).
Article 69.5 of the Spanish Constitution empowers the legislative assembly of each autonomous community of Spain to appoint a senate delegation from its own ranks, with one Senator per one million citizens, rounded up. Demographic growth increased the combined size of the regional delegations from 51 to 56 in 2008 for the 9th term.
Conventionally, the proportions of the regional delegations mimic their legislative assemblies, as required in principle by Article 69.5 of the constitution. However, Autonomous Communities have considerable leeway, and a motion to appoint the delegation often requires no more than a plurality. Two anomalous examples are:
Due to population growth, Andalusia, the Balearic and Canary Islands, Catalonia, and Madrid each gained a new senator in 2008. Andalusia was the last Autonomous Community to allocate its new seat; it rebuilt its entire delegation after its 2008 regional elections. The distribution after the 2015 election was:
|Autonomous Community||Population (2017)||Senators||Senator/pop.-ratio||Distribution|
|Castile and León||2,423,875||3||807,958||
The last election was held on 26 June 2016. The composition of the 12th Senate is:
|People's Party Group in the Senate||128||21||149|
|Spanish Socialist Workers' Party||40||18||58|
|Socialists' Party of Galicia||2||0||2|
|Socialist Party of the Basque Country–Basque Country Left||0||1||1|
|Socialists' Party of Catalonia||0||1||1|
|United We Can–In Common We Can–En Masse Group||14||6||20|
|In Common We Can||2||0||2|
|Catalonia Yes We Can||0||1||1|
|Republican Left Group||10||2||12|
|Basque Group in the Senate (EAJ/PNV)||5||1||6|
|Nationalist Group (PDeCAT–CC–PNC–AHI)||3||3||6|
|Catalan European Democratic Party||2||2||4|
|Independent Herrenian Group||1||0||1|
|Citizens–Party of the Citizenry||0||3||3|
|Basque Country Unite||0||1||1|
|Gomera Socialist Group||1||0||1|
|Navarrese People's Union||1||0||1|
The Spanish parliamentary system is bicameral but asymmetric. The Congress of Deputies has more independent functions, and it can also override most Senate measures. Only the Congress can grant or revoke confidence to a Prime Minister. In the ordinary lawmaking process, either house may be the initiator, and the Senate can amend hostilely or veto, the proposal then being sent back to the lower house, which can override these objections by an absolute majority vote. Organic laws, which govern basic civil rights and regional devolutions, need an absolute majority of both congress and senate to pass.
The process for constitutional amendments is slightly more tangled: the rule is to require a three fifths (60%) of both houses, but if the Senate does not achieve such a supermajority and a mixed congress-senate committee fails to resolve the issues, the Congress may force the amendment through with a two-thirds vote as long as an absolute majority of the Senate was in favour.
On the other hand, the Senate has certain exclusive functions in the appointment of constitutional posts, such as judges of the Constitutional Court or the members of the General Council of the Judicial Power. The Senate is solely responsible for disciplining regional presidents (article 155 of the Spanish Constitution). Only the Senate can suspend local governments. (Local Regime Framework Act article 61.) It exercised this power in April 2006, dissolving the Marbella city council when most of its members were found to have engaged in corrupt practices. On Friday, October 26, 2017, the Senate of Spain (Senado) voted 214 to 47 to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution over Catalonia. Article 155 powers gave Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy to remove secessionist politicians, including Mr. Puigdemont, the Catalan leader and direct rule from Madrid.
Senate reform has been a topic of discussion since the early days of Spanish democracy. One proposal would advance the federalization of Spain by remaking the Senate to represent the autonomous communities of Spain.
|Name||Constituency||Term of office||Legislature||Political Party|
|Took office||Left office||Days|
|Antonio Fontán Pérez||Seville||13 July 1977||2 January 1979||538||Constituent
|Union of the Democratic Centre|
|Cecilio Valverde Mazuelas||Córdoba||27 April 1979||31 August 1982||1222||I
|José Federico de Carvajal Pérez||Madrid||18 November 1982||23 April 1986||2541||II
|Spanish Socialist Workers' Party|
|15 July 1986||2 September 1989||III
|Juan José Laborda Martín||Burgos||21 November 1989||12 April 1993||2240||IV
|29 June 1993||9 January 1996||V
|Juan Ignacio Barrero Valverde||Badajoz||27 March 1996||8 February 1999||1048||VI
|Esperanza Aguirre Gil de Biedma||Madrid||8 February 1999||18 January 2000||1351|
|5 April 2000||21 October 2002||VII
|Juan José Lucas Giménez||Castile and León
|22 October 2002||20 January 2004||455|
|Francisco Javier Rojo García||Álava||2 April 2004||15 January 2008||2734||VIII
|Spanish Socialist Workers' Party|
|1 April 2008||27 September 2011||IX
|Pío García-Escudero Márquez||Madrid||13 December 2011||27 October 2015||2307||X
|13 January 2016||3 May 2016||XI
|19 July 2016||Incumbent||XII