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World > Europe > Spain > Government and Political Conditions (Notes)

Spain - Government and Political Conditions (Notes)


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Parliamentary democracy was restored following the death of General Franco in 1975, who had ruled since the end of the civil war in 1939. The 1978 constitution established Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, with the prime minister responsible to the bicameral Cortes (Congress of Deputies and Senate) elected every 4 years. On February 23, 1981, rebel elements among the security forces seized the Cortes and tried to impose a military-backed government. However, the great majority of the military forces remained loyal to King Juan Carlos, who used his personal authority to put down the bloodless coup attempt.

In October 1982, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), led by Felipe Gonzalez, swept both the Congress of Deputies and Senate, winning an absolute majority. Gonzalez and the PSOE ruled for the next 13 years. During that period, Spain joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Community.

In March 1996, Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party (PP) won a plurality of votes. Aznar moved to decentralize powers to the regions and liberalize the economy, with a program of privatization, labor market reform, and measures designed to increase competition in selected markets. During Aznar's first term, Spain fully integrated into European institutions, qualifying for the European Monetary Union. During this period, Spain participated, along with the United States and other NATO allies, in military operations in the former Yugoslavia. President Aznar and the PP won reelection in March 2000, obtaining absolute majorities in both houses of parliament.

After the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, President Aznar became a key ally in the fight against terrorism. Spain backed the military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan and took a leadership role within the European Union (EU) in pushing for increased international cooperation on terrorism. The Aznar government, with a rotating seat on the UN Security Council, supported the intervention in Iraq.

Spanish parliamentary elections on March 14, 2004 came only three days after a devastating terrorist attack on Madrid commuter rail lines that killed 191 and wounded over 1,400. With large voter turnout, PSOE won the election and its leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, took office on April 17, 2004. Carrying out campaign promises, the Zapatero government immediately withdrew Spanish forces from Iraq but has continued to support Iraq reconstruction efforts. The Zapatero government has supported coalition efforts in Afghanistan, including maintaining troop support for 2004 and 2005 elections, supported reconstruction efforts in Haiti, sent troops to UNIFIL in Lebanon, and cooperated on counterterrorism issues and many other issues of importance to the U.S.

Local Government
The 1978 constitution authorized the creation of regional autonomous governments. By 1985, 17 regions covering all of peninsular Spain, the Canaries, and the Balearic Islands had negotiated autonomy statutes with the central government. In 1979, the first autonomous elections were held in the Basque and Catalan regions, which have the strongest regional traditions by virtue of their history and separate languages. Since then, autonomous governments have been created in the remainder of the 17 regions. The central government continues to devolve powers to the regional governments, which will eventually have full responsibility for health care and education, as well as other social programs.

Terrorism
The Government of Spain is involved in a long-running campaign against Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), a terrorist organization founded in 1959 and dedicated to promoting Basque independence. ETA targets Spanish security forces, military personnel, Spanish Government officials, and politicians of the Popular Party and the Socialist Party (PSOE.) The group has carried out numerous bombings against Spanish Government facilities and economic targets, including a car bomb assassination attempt on then-opposition leader Aznar in 1995, in which his armored car was destroyed but he was unhurt. The Spanish Government attributes over 800 deaths to ETA terrorism since its campaign of violence began. In recent years, the government has had more success in controlling ETA, due in part to increased security cooperation with French authorities.

In November 1999, ETA ended a cease-fire it declared in September 1998. Following the end of that ceasefire, ETA conducted a campaign of violence and has been blamed for the deaths of some 46 Spanish citizens and officials. Each attack has been followed by massive anti-ETA demonstrations around the country, clearly demonstrating that the majority of Spaniards, including the majority of Spain's Basque populace, have no tolerance for continued ETA violence. In March 2006, ETA declared another ceasefire, which it ended in June 2007. The government continues to pursue vigorous counterterrorist policy and has worked closely with its international allies to foil several suspected ETA attacks.

Spain also contends with a resistance group, commonly known as GRAPO. GRAPO is an urban left-wing terrorist group that seeks to overthrow the Spanish Government and establish a Marxist state. It opposes Spanish participation in NATO and U.S. military presence in Spain and has a long history of assassinations, bombings, and kidnappings mostly against Spanish interests during the 1970s and 1980s.

In a June 2000 communiqué following the explosions of two small devices in Barcelona, GRAPO claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks throughout Spain during the past year. These attacks included two failed armored car robberies, one in which two security officers died, and four bombings of political party offices during the 1999/2000 election campaign. In 2002 and 2003, Spanish and French authorities were successful in hampering the organization's activities through sweeping arrests, including some of the group's leadership.

Al Qaeda is known to operate cells in Spain. On March 11, 2004, only three days before national elections, 10 bombs were detonated on crowded commuter trains during rush hour. Three were deactivated by security forces and one was found unexploded. Evidence quickly surfaced that jihadist terrorists with possible ties to the al Qaeda network were responsible for the attack that killed 191 people. Spanish investigative services and the judicial system have aggressively sought to arrest and prosecute suspected al Qaeda members and actively cooperate with foreign governments to diminish the transnational terrorist threat. A Spanish court convicted 18 individuals in September 2005 for their role in supporting al Qaeda, and Spanish police disrupted numerous Islamist extremist cells operating in the country. The trial against 29 people for their alleged participation in the Madrid March 11, 2004 terrorist attack started in February 2007, and was declared ready for judgment at the end of June. One of the 29 was absolved during the trial. The prosecutor asked for sentences as high as 30,000 years of jail for some of them. The court is expected to issue the sentence sometime in October 2007.

Principal Government Officials
Chief of State, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces--King Juan Carlos I
President of the Government (Prime Minister)--Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Miguel Angel Moratinos
Ambassador to the United States--Carlos Westendorp y Cabeza

Spain maintains an embassy in the United States at 2375 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037 (tel. 202-452-0100) and consulates in many larger U.S. cities.


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Euro Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



Facts at a Glance
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Climate
Current Time
Ranking Positions
Euro Exchange Rates


Notes and Commentary
People
Economy
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.





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