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An autonomous community (Comunidad Autónoma in Spanish) is the first-level political division of the Kingdom of Spain, established in accordance with the Spanish Constitution. The second article of the constitution recognizes the rights of "regions and nationalities" to self-government and declares the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation".[1][2]

Political power in Spain is channeled by a central government and 17 autonomous communities. These regional governments are responsible for schools, universities, health, social services, culture, urban and rural development and, in some places, policing[3]. There are also two autonomous cities. In all, under the autonomías system, Spain has been quoted to be "remarkable for the extent of the powers peacefully devolved over the past 30 years"[4] and "an extraordinarily decentralised country", with the central government accounting for just 18% of public spending; the regional governments 38%, the local councils 13% and the social-security system the rest[3].


Constitutional framework

Upon the passing of the Constitution of 1978, Spain created a unique system of regional autonomy, known as the "state of the autonomies".[1] The second article of the constitution grants the right of self-government to the regions and nationalities that compose the indissoluble Spanish nation.[2] In the exercise of the right to self-government recognized in that article, autonomy was to be granted to:[5]

  • two or more adjacent provinces with common historical, cultural and economical characteristics,
  • insular territories, and
  • a single province with historical identity or status.

As such, the province, which is also a territorial local entity recognized by the constitution,[6] serves as the framework from which the autonomous communities were to be created. However, the constitution allows exceptions to the above, namely that the Spanish Parliament reserves the right to:[7]

  • authorize, in the nation's interest, the constitution of an autonomous community even if it is a single province without a historical regional identity; and
  • authorize or grant autonomy to those entities or territories that are not constituted as provinces.

Once an autonomous community had been constituted, the 145th article of the constitution prohibits the federation or union of two or more autonomous communities.[8] Between 1979 and 1983, all the regions in Spain had been constituted as autonomous communities; in 1996 the process was closed when the autonomous status of Ceuta and Melilla was passed:

Political organization of the autonomous communities

The basic institutional law of the autonomous community is the Statute of Autonomy. The Statutes of Autonomy establish the denomination of the community according to its historical identity, the limits of their territories, the name and organization of the institutions of government and the rights they enjoy according the constitution.[10]

The government of all autonomous communities must be based on a division of powers comprising:

  • a Legislative Assembly whose members must be elected by universal suffrage according to the system of proportional representation and in which all areas that integrate the territory are fairly represented;
  • a Government Council, with executive and administrative functions headed by a president, elected by the Legislative Assembly and nominated by the King of Spain;
  • a Supreme Court of Justice, under the Supreme Court of the State, which head the judicial organization within the autonomous community.

Besides Andalusia, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, which identified themselves as nationalities, other communities have also taken that denomination in accordance to their historical regional identity, such as the Valencian Community,[11] the Canary Islands,[12] the Balearic Islands,[13] and Aragon.[14]

The autonomous communities have wide legislative and executive autonomy, with their own parliaments and regional governments. The distribution of powers may be different for every community, as laid out in their Statutes of Autonomy. There used to be a clear de facto distinction between so called "historic" communities (Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, Andalusia) and the rest. The "historic" ones initially received more functions, including the ability of the regional presidents to choose the timing of the regional elections (as long as they happen no more than four years apart). As another example, the Basque Country, Navarre and Catalonia have full-range police forces of their own: Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, Policía Foral in Navarre and Mossos d'Esquadra in Catalonia. Other communities have a more limited force or none at all (like the Policía Autónoma Andaluza[15] in Andalusia or the BESCAM in Madrid). However, the recent amendments made to their respective Statute of Autonomy by a series of "ordinary" Autonomous Communities such as the Valencian Community or Aragon have quite dilluted this original de facto distinction.



Autonomous communities are composed of provinces (provincias), which serve as the territorial building blocks for the former. In turn, provinces are composed of municipalities (municipios). The existence of these two subdivisions is granted and protected by the constitution, not necessarily by the Statutes of Autonomy themselves. Municipalities are granted autonomy to manage their internal affairs, and provinces are the territorial divisions designed to carry out the activities of the State.[16]

The current fifty province structure is based—with minor changes—on the one created in 1833 by Javier de Burgos. The communities of Asturias, Cantabria, La Rioja, the Balearic Islands, Madrid, Murcia and Navarre, having been granted autonomy as single-provinces for historical reasons, are counted as provinces as well.

Devolution of powers and the creation of the autonomous communities

Autonomous communities of Spain, including the boundaries of their constituent provinces.

Centralism, nationalism, and separatism played an important role in the Spanish transition. For fear that separatism would lead to instability and a dictatorial backlash, a compromise was struck among the moderate political parties taking part in the drafting of the Spanish Constitution of 1978. The aim was to appease separatist forces and so disarm the extreme right. A highly decentralized state was established, compared to both the previous centralist Francoist regime and the most modern territorial arrangements in Western European nations. In this regard, the current Spanish Estado de las Autonomías is often dubbed as one of the most decentralized states in Europe.[17][18]

The constitution classifies the autonomous communities to be created into two groups. Each group had a different route to accede to autonomy and was to be granted a different level of power and responsibility.[1] Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Galicia were designated "historic nationalities"[1][19] and granted autonomy through a rapid and simplified process. These three regions had voted and approved a Statute of Autonomy in the past.

While the Constitution was still being drafted, there was a popular outcry in Andalusia for its own right to autonomy, with over a million and a half people demonstrating in the streets on 4 December 1977, which led the creation of a special quicker process for autonomy for that region, although not originally considered a historical nationality.[1][19] Eventually, all regions could be granted autonomy, if they complied with the requirements set forth in the constitution, and if their people wished to do so, and four additional communities self-identified as "nationalities" as well.

Between 1979 and 1983 the majority of the regions were constituted as autonomous communities, in accordance with the 143rd or 151st articles of the constitution. Nonetheless the case of the province of Madrid was exceptional. Since it was not a province with a separate historical regional identity, but was part of the cultural region of Castile, it was considered a natural province that would compose the soon-to be Community of Castile-La Mancha. During the process that led to the autonomy of this region, the old rivalry between Toledo and Madrid resurfaced; as capital of Spain, Madrid was to enjoy a relative degree of self-government, whereas Castilians demanded absolute equality amongst the constituent provinces of the community, and thus excluded Madrid from their project of self-government. Other alternatives included the incorporation of Madrid to the community of Castile and León (the historical region of Old Castile) or its controversial constitution as something similar to a "Federal District" or territory, emulating Mexico City, or Washington, D.C.[9] Finally, they opted for the creation of a single-province autonomous community, but in lack of a historical regional identity, Madrid was granted autonomy for the "nation's interest" through the prerogatives of the 144th article.[20]

The Basque Country and Navarra were also exceptional cases. While the Basque Country was granted autonomy through the rapid process granted to the "nationalities", it also retained the economic and fiscal autonomy it had enjoyed through the fueros or charters. Navarra was granted autonomy through the "update and improvement" of the medieval charters. As such, it is the only region that does not have a "Statute of Autonomy" per se, but a "Law of Reintegration and Improvement of the Chartered Regime". In theory, Navarra is the only first-level political division that is not an "autonomous community" but a "chartered community", but in practice, except for the fiscal autonomy it enjoys along with the Basque Country, it is administratively constituted as any other autonomous community and is represented in the Spanish Parliament like the rest. Although the constitution forbids the federation or union of autonomous communities, an addendum or "transitional provision" to the constitution makes an exclusion whereby Navarra could join the Basque Country if the people chose to do so.[21]

Leonese administrations proposed a Leonese Autonomous Community for the Province of León, continuating with the Leonese Region created in 1833 and composed by León, Salamanca and Zamora provinces, and the Kingdom of León, and even the Diputación Provincial de León, and so many municipalities as León or Ponferrada supported that model in 1983 (some of them supported Leonese Autonomous Community as an "Historical Nationality"). The Tribunal Constitucional of Spain rejected the leonese proposal in 1984, and León was joint with Castile in "Castile and León Autonomous Community", only supported by a 4% of Leonese municipalities.[22].

List of the communities and provinces

Local name(s)
Capital Provinces Capital
Andalusia Andalusia
Sp. Andalucía
Seville (Government, Parliament and Ombudsman)
Sp. Sevilla
Granada (High Court of Justice)
Almería Almería
Cádiz Cádiz
Córdoba Córdoba
Granada Granada
Huelva Huelva
Jaén Jaén
Málaga Málaga
Sp. Sevilla
Sp. Sevilla
Aragon Aragon
Sp. Aragón
Sp. Huesca
Ar.[23] Uesca
Sp. Huesca
Ar.[23] Uesca
Sp. Teruel
Ar.[23] Tergüel
Sp. Teruel
Ar.[23] Tergüel
Asturias Principality of Asturias:
Sp.. Principado de Asturias
Ast.[23] Principáu d'Asturies
Sp. Oviedo
Ast.[23] Uviéu
Sp. Asturias
Ast.[23] Asturies
Sp. Oviedo
Ast.[23] Uviéu
Balearic Islands Balearic Islands
Sp. Islas Baleares
Cat.Illes Balears (official)
Palma of Majorca
Sp.Palma de Mallorca
Cat. Palma (official)
Balearic Islands
Sp. Islas Baleares
Cat. Illes Balears (official)
Palma of Majorca
Sp.Palma de Mallorca
Cat. Palma (official)
Basque Country (autonomous community) Basque Country
Sp.. Euskadi, País Vasco, Comunidad Autónoma Vasca
Ba.. Euskadi, Euskal Autonomi Erkidegoa
Sp. Vitoria
Ba.Vitoria-Gasteiz (official), Gasteiz (historic)
Vitoria (historic)
Sp. Álava
Sp. Vitoria
Ba. Gasteiz
Sp. Guipúzcoa
Ba. Gipuzkoa
Sp. San Sebastián
Ba. Donostia
Sp. Vizcaya
Ba. Bizkaia
Sp. Bilbao
Ba. Bilbo
Canary Islands Canary Islands
Sp. Islas Canarias
Santa Cruz de Tenerife/
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Santa Cruz de Tenerife Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Las Palmas Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Cantabria Cantabria Santander Cantabria Santander
Castile-La Mancha Castile-La Mancha
Sp. Castilla-La Mancha
Toledo (Regional Government and Parliament)
Albacete (Superior Court of Justice and Ombudsman)
Albacete Albacete
Ciudad Real Ciudad Real
Cuenca Cuenca
Guadalajara Guadalajara
Toledo Toledo
Castile and León Castile and León
Sp. Castilla y León

Le.[23]Castiella y Llión

Valladolid (Regional Government and Parliament)
Burgos (Superior Court of Justice)
Le.Llión (Ombudsman)
Ávila Ávila
Burgos Burgos
Sp. León
Le. Llión
Sp. León
Le. Llión
Palencia Palencia
Sp. Salamanca
Le. Salamanca
Sp. Salamanca
Le. Salamanca
Segovia Segovia
Soria Soria
Valladolid Valladolid
Sp. Zamora
Le. Zamora
Sp. Zamora
Le. Zamora
Catalonia Catalonia
Sp. Cataluña
Cat. Catalunya (official)
Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
Sp. Gerona
Cat. Girona (official)
Sp. Gerona
Cat. Girona (official)
Sp. Lérida
Cat. Lleida (official)
Sp. Lérida
Cat. Lleida (official)
Tarragona Tarragona
Extremadura Extremadura Mérida Badajoz Badajoz
Cáceres Cáceres
Galicia (Spain) Galicia
Sp. Galicia
Gl. Galicia, Galiza
Santiago de Compostela (Regional Government, Parliament and Ombudsman)
Corunna (High Court of Justice)
Sp. La Coruña
Gl.A Coruña
Sp. La Coruña
Gl. A Coruña
Sp. La Coruña
Gl. A Coruña
Lugo Lugo
Sp. Orense
Sp. Orense
Pontevedra Pontevedra
La Rioja (Spain) La Rioja Logroño La Rioja Logroño
Community of Madrid Madrid Madrid Madrid Madrid
Region of Murcia Region of Murcia
Sp. Región de Murcia
Murcia (Government, Ombudsman, High Court of Justice)
Cartagena (Parliament)
Murcia Murcia
Navarre Foral Community of Navarre
Sp. Comunidad Foral de Navarra
Ba. Nafarroako Foru Komunitatea
Sp. Pamplona
Ba. Iruña
Sp. Navarra
Ba. Nafarroa
Sp. Pamplona
Ba. Iruña
Valencian Community Valencian Community
Sp. Comunidad Valenciana
Vl. Comunitat Valenciana (official)
Sp. Valencia
Vl. València
Sp. Alicante
Cat. Alacant
Sp. Alicante
Vl. Alacant
Sp. Castellón
Cat. Castelló
Sp. Castellón de la Plana
Cat. Castelló de la Plana
Sp. Valencia
Cat. València
Sp. Valencia
Cat. València

See also:

Autonomous cities and "plazas de soberanía"

There are five plazas de soberanía ("places of sovereignty") near Morocco as follows:

  • Ceuta and Melilla. These are called "Ciudades Autónomas" (autonomous cities). Their status is in between regular cities and autonomous communities: on the one side, Ceuta and Melilla autonomous parliaments cannot enact "autonomous" laws, but, on the other side, they can enact regulations to execute laws, which are greater regulatory powers than those of regular city councils.

and then the tiny and uninhabited other than for military personnel:

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Regional Government". Spain. Encyclopedia Britannica Online Accessed 10 December 2007
  2. ^ a b Preliminary Title. Second Article. Spanish Constitution of 1978. Accessed: 10 December 2007
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ Chapter 3. Autonomous Communities. 143rd Article. Spanish Constitution of 1978. Accessed: 10 December 2007
  6. ^ Chapter 3. Autonomous Communities. 141st Article. Spanish Constitution of 1978. Accessed: 10 December 2007
  7. ^ Chapter 3. Autonomous Communities. 144th Article. Spanish Constitution of 1978. Accessed: 10 December 2007
  8. ^ Chapter 3. Autonomous Communities. 145th Article. Spanish Constitution of 1978. Accessed: 10 December 2007
  9. ^ a b Sinópsis del Estatuto de Autonomia de la Comunidad de Madrid. Congreso de los Diputados. Accessed: 10 December 1979
  10. ^ Chapter 3. Autonomous Communities. 147th Article. Spanish Constitution of 1978. Accessed: 10 December 2007
  11. ^ Estatut d'Autonomia de la Comunitat Valenciana, 2006
  12. ^ Nuevo Estatuto de Autonomía de Canarias
  13. ^ Estatut d'Autonomia de les Illes Balears, 2007
  14. ^ Estatuto de Autonomía de Aragón
  15. ^ "Unidad de Policía de la Comunidad Autónoma de Andalucía". Retrieved 2007-10-23.  (Spanish)
  16. ^ Articles 140 and 141. Spanish Constitution of 1978
  17. ^ – Catalonians vote for more autonomy – Jun 18, 2006
  18. ^ Global Education Reform | Decentralization and SBM Resource Kit
  19. ^ a b Keating, M. (2006). Federalism and the Balance of Power in European States. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Accessed: 10 December 2007
  20. ^ Preliminary Title. First Article. Statute of Autonomy of the Community of Madrid
  21. ^ Fourth Transitional Provision. Spanish Constitution of 1978
  22. ^ Poll made by Leonese Provincial Government in 1980
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Not an official language but is protected and regulated, and spoken by a local minority.

External links

Simple English

Spain is divided in 17 parts called autonomous communities. Autonomous means that each of these autonomous communities has its own Executive Power, its own Legislative Power and its own Judicial Power. These are similar, but NOT the same, to states in the United States of America, for example.

Spain has fifty smaller parts called provinces. In 1978 these parts came together, making the autonomous communities. Before then, some of these provinces were together but were broken. The groups that were together once before are called "historic communities": Catalonia, Basque Country, Galicia and Andalusia.

The Spanish language is official language in every autonomous commmunity but six autonomous communities have also other official languages:

List of the autonomous communities, with their Capital city (the place where the government has its offices):

Spain also has two cities on the north coast of Africa: Ceuta and Melilla. They are called "autonomous cities" and have simultaneously the majority of the power of an autonomous community and also power of provinces and power of municipalities.


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