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Regional Administrations

Regional and Local Policy

Sunday 31 December 2017
Pool Moncloa

Table of contents:

Regional and Local Policy

6th Conference of Regional Presidents

Regional State Administration

​Regional Policy

In addition to the declaration in Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution, which recognises and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions that make up Spain, Title VIII of the Constitution establishes the territorial organisation of Spain, comprising three tiers of government: the State or Central Organisation, the Autonomous Regions and the Local Authorities.

Although the Constitution does not shape the political map of the country, since 1983 Spanish territory has been organised into 17 autonomous regions, a system completed in 1995 with the approval of the Statute of Autonomy for the cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

The primary institutional legislation for each autonomous region is its Statute of Autonomy, a framework in which its institutions are designed and developed, and the system to attribute their powers, always within the limits established by Articles 148 and 149 of the Spanish Constitution.

In summary, there are four ways for powers to be exercised: those which correspond exclusively to the State; those whereby the State legislates and the autonomous regions enforce the legislation, those issues on which the State approves primary legislation, and where its legislative implementation and enforcement correspond to the autonomous regions; and, lastly, those powers that fall exclusively to the autonomous regions.

The complexity of the system and the difficulties in defining this in ordinary administrative activity has frequently given rise to conflict, which has been resolved through the case law of the Constitutional Court. This body has played a very important role in interpreting the powers that correspond to the State and to the autonomous regions.

This regional system has become effective through the transfer of services and resources from the State to the autonomous regions; a gradual process that has resulted in the secondment of more than 820,000 public servants who now work directly for the autonomous regions. On this basis, the autonomous regions have been assigned their own staff to provide and attend to the corresponding services, particularly on matters of healthcare, education and social services.

The relationship between State power and regional power is complex. These intertwining powers, the shared nature of many of the material powers, and the need to design joint policies to be implemented throughout the country have led to the creation of different cooperation instruments to make the functioning of the system possible. In reality, the system has gradually developed and consolidated through practice and experience. From a formal point of view, two possibilities have developed: either through multilateral or sector cooperation, in which the State and all the autonomous regions jointly participate, or through bilateral cooperation, in which the State and an individual autonomous region participate. The Conference of Regional Presidents and the Sector Conferences play a central role in this system.

The successive reforms of the EU Treaties have led to an increase in the powers of the European Union, which affects the internal system of powers. In order to cater for this new need, a system of regional participation has been designed in those cases in which the EU proposal impinges on the powers or affects the interests of the autonomous regions. Similarly, the distribution of foreign regional power has forced coordination instruments to be designed to guarantee the coherence and dovetailing of this activity in powers that exclusively correspond to the State.

Lastly, the services provided by the autonomous regions require financial resources that are periodically reviewed and which have become effective through successive agreements on the model of financing, with the agreement dating back to 2008 currently in force. The successive systems have meant different modifications and adaptations to a changing reality and these have been approved as the autonomous regions acquired new responsibilities and took on new public services.

Local Policy

Article 137 of the Spanish Constitution establishes that the State is territorially organised into municipal districts, provinces and the autonomous regions that constitute them. All of these bodies enjoy autonomy in the management of their respective interests. At the level of local authorities, the Constitution grants special importance to municipal districts, guaranteeing them their autonomy in Article 140, which also establishes that their governance corresponds to their respective local councils.

Based on the prevalence of the municipal district, Article 141 provides for the existence of other local bodies, specifically provinces and island councils, as well as others that may be set up, which will be configured as groupings of municipal districts.

The primary legislation regulating those bodies that make up the local authorities is contained in Law 7/1985, of 2 April, Regulating the Foundations for Local Authorities, which sets out the institutions of local government and the powers that correspond thereto.

Furthermore, in the implementing regulations of this law, the regional governments have approved their respective laws that develop the primary legislation in order to take into consideration, above all, the specific features of their region and the distribution of the population in each autonomous region.

The different sector laws frequently have provisions and references to the attributions to local authorities such that these need to be taken into consideration in order to be aware of the local powers in each autonomous region and in each sector of activity.

The local authorities that currently exist in Spain are as follows:

  • Municipal district. There are 8,117 and they form the basic unit for the territorial organisation of the State and the closest channel for citizen participation in public affairs.
  • Province. There are 50 provinces in Spain, although seven autonomous regions only have one province and hence the former takes on the responsibilities of the latter.
  • Island council. There are 11 island councils, distributed between the Balearic Islands (4) and the Canary Islands (7).
  • Territorial areas smaller than a municipal district established or recognised by the respective autonomous region. There are 3,719 at present.
  • District council or other bodies that group together several municipal districts as established by the respective autonomous region. There are 81 at present, located in Catalonia (41), Aragon (32), the Basque Country (7) and Castile and Leon (1, El Bierzo).
  • Metropolitan areas. There are 3, located in the Region of Valencia (2) and Catalonia (1).
  • Associations of municipal districts. There are 1,018 at present, affecting 6,190 municipal districts, in other words, 76% of the total.

The provision of local authority services requires financial resources that are reviewed on a periodic basis and have become effective through successive regulatory reforms of the Law on Local Treasuries. These reforms have been gradually approved as local authorities have taken on new responsibilities and must provide these public services and answer these recent public demands.

Intertwining powers, the shared nature of many substantive powers and the need to design joint policies to be developed throughout the country have led to the creation of various cooperation instruments that make the coherent and efficient functioning of the system of territorial decentralisation possible. This system has gradually been developed and consolidated based on practice and experience. They are formally developed in two ways: multilateral or sector cooperation, in which all local authorities take part on a joint basis, and secondly, bilateral cooperation, with the participation of just one local authority.

With this goal in mind, primary legislation establishes the relations for collaboration and cooperation. This take places under the premise of certain general provisions and then through voluntary instruments for cooperation and coordination. Finally, there are provisions for compulsory coordination in those cases in which it is necessary to ensure the coherence of the actions of the public authorities.

In order to make this coordination effective, the State Administration and the autonomous regions, on the one hand, and the local authorities, on the other hand, must:

  • Respect the legitimate exercise by other public authorities of their powers and the consequences deriving therefrom for their own powers.
  • Weigh up, in the exercise of their own powers, all of the public interests involved and, specifically, those which are managed by other public authorities.
  • Facilitate other public authorities with information on any administrative action that may be relevant for the smooth development of their undertakings by such other authorities.
  • Provide, within the scope of their own powers, active cooperation and assistance that other public authorities may require to effectively carry out their undertakings.

In the case of local authorities, common cooperation instruments are designed through the Spanish Federation of Municipal Districts and Provinces (Spanish acronym: FEMP), in its condition as the most representative association, while special cooperation - for a specific municipal district - is carried out through the signing of agreements designed for the carrying out of joint actions.