Cortes Generales

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The Cortes Generales are the parliament in Spain . The constitutional body consists of two chambers: the Congreso de los Diputados (House of Representatives) and the Senado (Senate). They exercise the legislative power in the state, approve the state budget, control the activities of the government and carry out all other tasks assigned to them by the constitution. Nobody can be a member of both chambers at the same time. There is no imperative mandate . All Spanish citizens aged 18 and over who are in full possession of their political rights are entitled to vote and stand for candidacy. The name of the Cortes Generales is derived from the medieval class assemblies .

House of Representatives (Congress of Deputies)

The House of Representatives in Madrid

According to Article 68 of the Spanish Constitution , the House of Representatives consists of 300 to 400 members who are elected by general, free , equal, direct and secret ballot . The constitution contains the following further regulations: constituencies ( circunscripciones ) are the 50 provinces and the two exclaves Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa. There are therefore a total of 52 constituencies (Art. 68.2). The election takes place in the individual constituencies according to proportional representation (Art. 68.3).

The electoral law regulates the details ( Ley Organica del Régimen Electoral General , LOREG). The regulations on the electoral system (i.e. how the votes cast are converted into seats) can be found there in Title II, Chapter III.

350 members are elected (Art. 162.1 LOREG). The distribution to the individual constituencies is regulated as follows: Ceuta and Melilla each have one MP, and each province receives two seats in advance (Art. 162.2 LOREG). So 102 seats have already been distributed. The remaining 248 are distributed to the provinces in proportion to the population according to the Hare-Niemeyer method (Art. 162.3 LOREG).

Example: The province of Granada has 884,099 inhabitants, Spain has a total of 45,200,737 (as of January 1, 2007): 884,099 / 45,200,737 × 248 = 4.85, i.e. rounded 5 + 2 basic mandates results in 7 members.

Since the populations of the provinces are very different (smallest: Soria with 94,000, largest Madrid with 6.1 million), the system of 2 basic mandates results in a certain overrepresentation of small provinces; in fact, it is a degressive proportionality . In the election of March 9, 2008, Soria elects two MPs, Madrid 35. Soria has one MP for every 47,000 inhabitants; Madrid has one for around 147,000.

In each constituency, the seats are distributed to the parties according to the D'Hondt procedure , whereby nominations that received less than 3% of the votes in the respective constituency are not considered (Art. 163 LOREG).

There is an essential difference to the electoral system for the German Bundestag: In Germany, the first step is to distribute the national election result to the parties according to the ratio of votes obtained. In this way (apart from the 5% hurdle and overhang mandates) a proportionate distribution of seats between the parties is achieved. In the Spanish electoral system, on the other hand, the distribution of seats takes place exclusively at the level of the constituencies, which are very different in size and there are in particular many small constituencies (2008 election: 2 with one, 1 with two, 8 with three, 9 with four, 7 with five, 8 with six, 4 with seven, 5 with eight, 1 with nine, 2 with ten, 2 with twelve, Valencia with 16, Barcelona with 31 and Madrid with 35 MPs). The average constituency is 6.7 MPs.

This has two effects that lead to a deviation from a purely proportional distribution:

1. Preference for large parties over small ones

In fact, there is a much higher percentage hurdle in the small constituencies than the 3% stipulated by law. For example, in an already relatively large constituency with 10 MPs, around 9.1% of the votes are required to win a mandate. Small parties practically only have a chance of winning a mandate in the largest provinces. Probably because of this electoral system, there were only three relevant parties at the national level, namely the “big” PSOE (social democratic) and PP (conservative) and the small IU ( left socialist ). In the elections on March 14, 2004, the IU was only able to provide MPs in the three largest constituencies of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. Since the elections on December 20, 2015, Podemos and the Ciudadanos, two other “big” parties that have ended the “imperfect two-party system” that had prevailed to date, have been represented in parliament.
This had the following effects in the 2004 elections:
Political party %Be right % Seats
PSOE 42.6 46.9
PP 37.7 42.3
IU 5.0 1.4
This also has a majority-building effect. In the seven elections since 1982, there has been an absolute majority for the strongest party in the Congreso five times (1982, 1986 and 1989: PSOE; 2000 and 2011: PP), without this receiving an absolute majority of the votes cast in the elections would have.
Using Spain as an example, this confirms the doctrine that proportional representation in constituencies comes closer to majority voting the smaller the constituencies (in terms of the number of MPs to be elected) are.

2. Preference for regional parties over small all-Spanish parties

In Spain there are a number of regional parties that only compete in their respective region, but achieve a relatively high proportion of the votes there. On the one hand, this leads to a preference for such parties over small all-Spanish ones (currently only the IU, 2008–2015 also UPYD), and on the other, to the fact that parties are represented in the congress that only represent a negligible proportion of the national level Obtained votes.
Using the example of the 2004 election results:
Political party region % Votes in the region % Votes of Spain as a whole Seats
Convergència i Unió (CiU) Catalonia 20.8 3.2 10
Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) Catalonia 16.0 2.5 8th
Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV) Basque Country 33.7 1.6 7th
Izquierda Unida (IU) All of Spain 5.0 5
Coalición Canaria (CC) Canaries 23.5 0.9 3
Bloque Nacionalista Galego (BNG) Galicia 11.8 0.8 2
Chunta Aragonesista (CHA) Aragon 12.1 0.4 1
Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) Basque Country 6.5 0.3 1
Nafarroa Bai (Na-Bai) Navarre 18.0 0.2 1
At the time of the dominance of the PP and PSOE, this increased the probability that precisely these regional parties would play the role of “tipping the scales” when neither the PSOE nor the PP could achieve an absolute majority of the seats. Since the PSOE was more willing to hand over powers to the regions, the regional parties are closer to this. On the other hand, the Catalan CDC and the Basque PNV, in particular, are bourgeois parties that are “ideologically” closer to the PP. Support for both camps by regional parties was possible, and both have already happened: in the seven legislative periods since 1982, regional parties helped the PSOE twice (1993, 2004) and once the PP (1996) to government.


The Senate is the chamber of territorial representation, roughly comparable to the Bundesrat in Germany (not directly elected), the Bundesrat in Austria (not directly elected) and the Council of States in Switzerland (directly elected). The Senate currently has 259 members, of which 208 are elected in general, free, equal, direct and secret ballot according to the following mode:

In addition, the regional parliaments of the autonomous communities of Spain nominate one senator and one more for every million inhabitants in the respective community. The number of senators appointed in this way is adapted to the population development with each new election and is therefore variable. In total there are currently (since 2011) 58 senators who are sent to the Senate by indirect election. The Senate is also elected for four years.

Position of the chambers in the constitutional system

It is a two-chamber system . The Congreso is the actual representative body, the Senado the "Chamber of Territorial Representation" (Article 69 of the Constitution). The latter also explains why each province in the Senado has four senators, regardless of population.

Taken together, the Congreso has a strong political preponderance over the other chamber.

Formation of Government and Accountability of Government

The election of the Prime Minister is the sole responsibility of the Congreso (Article 99 of the Constitution). The government is only responsible for its policies towards the Congress (Art. 108). The Congreso alone also decides on a vote of confidence by the Prime Minister or a vote of no confidence (Art. 112 and 113).

After a new election at the Congreso , the King proposes a candidate for the office of Prime Minister after consulting the parties represented in Parliament. If the Congreso trusts the nominee with an absolute majority , he is elected. If this does not happen, a simple majority is sufficient in a further vote 48 hours later . If this is not achieved either, further proposals are dealt with in the same way until a prime minister is elected. If this does not succeed within a period of two months (counting from the vote on the first proposal), both chambers will be dissolved and new elections will take place. (Art. 99)

If the Prime Minister puts the vote of confidence, the Congreso decides on this . A simple majority is sufficient for the vote of confidence (Art. 112). If this is not achieved, the Prime Minister (and with him the government) must resign. A new Prime Minister is then elected in accordance with the procedure of Art. 99 (see above) (Art. 114).

At the request of one tenth of the deputies, the Congreso can withdraw confidence in the government, for which an absolute majority is necessary (Art. 113). A candidate for the office of Prime Minister must be named in the application ( constructive vote of no confidence ). There must be five days between the motion and the vote. Further candidates can be named in the first two days. If the vote of no confidence is successful, the Prime Minister resigns and the candidate is appointed by the King as the new head of government (Art. 114).


In addition to the government, both chambers have the same right of initiative (Art. 87 of the Constitution). Bills are first passed by the Congreso and then sent to the Senado . The latter can either veto with an absolute majority within two months or propose changes with a simple majority, after which the Congreso is referred to again. A veto can be overruled by an absolute majority; after two months after the submission, a simple majority is sufficient. Changes proposed by the Senado can be accepted or rejected with a simple majority. The law was passed and the Senado will not be referred to again. (Art. 90)

Special features apply to constitutional amendments (see below) and the organic laws .

Constitutional amendment

The Spanish constitution distinguishes between a simple constitutional amendment (Art. 167 of the Constitution) and a "total revision", which also includes changes in the fundamental rights section or the provisions on the Crown (Art. 56-65) (Art. 168).

A majority of 3/5 in both chambers is necessary for simple constitutional amendments. If the chambers do not agree, a mediation committee with equal representation tries to work out a compromise, which is then submitted to both chambers for a vote. If such a compromise does not come about or if it fails in one of the chambers, a 2/3 majority in the Congreso is sufficient, provided that the Senado has at least approved with an absolute majority.

A 2/3 majority in both chambers is necessary for the “total revision”. If this is the case, both chambers will be dissolved immediately and new elections will take place. The newly elected chambers will discuss the proposal again and both have to agree with a 2/3 majority. In order for the “total revision” to take place, approval in a referendum is required.

Lately there has been a lot of discussion in public opinion in Spain about the abolition of the precedence of male descendants over female in line to the throne , as provided for in Article 57 of the Constitution. However, this provision is in the provisions on the Crown and an amendment could only be made according to the rigid provisions of Art. 168.

Mediation process

Art. 74 para. 2 of the Constitution provides for a mediation procedure between the two chambers, except in the case of constitutional amendments (see above), only for the following areas: the approval of the Cortes Generales to international agreements (Art. 94), the approval of cooperation agreements between autonomous communities (Regions) according to Art. 145 and the allocation of the resources of the “Compensation Fund for Investment Expenditures” to the Autonomous Communities (Art. 158).

If there is disagreement between the chambers in these areas, a mediation committee with equal representation will be asked to work out a compromise proposal. If both chambers do not agree to this after the mediation process, the Congreso decides with an absolute majority.

Cortes Generales as a single decision-making body

In principle, the two chambers meet separately and make their own decisions. The Constitution according to Art. 74 only recognizes the Cortes Generales as a unified decision-making body (i.e. in a joint meeting of all deputies and senators) for decisions that they have to make according to Art. 56 to 65 with regard to the crown, such as the determination of an heir to the throne in the event of the extinction of all lines entitled to inheritance (Art. 57) or the determination of regency for a minor or a king incapable of office, if the persons appointed for this purpose according to the constitution are not available (Art. 59). This has not happened before.

Further, the step Cortes Generales as a whole (but to take no decisions) each for "ceremonial opening of the legislative session " ( solemne sesión de apertura de la legislatura ) and for the proclamation and oath of the king and the crown prince (Art. 61) together.

Control of the executive branch

Both chambers are entitled to the classic means of parliamentary control of the executive : the right to demand the presence of members of the government in the chambers and their committees ( right of quotation ) which, in turn, corresponds to the right of government members to be present and to speak in the chambers and committees ( Art. 110), the right of interpellation (Art. 111) and the possibility of setting up committees of inquiry (Art. 76), whereby a joint committee of inquiry can also be set up with the consent of both chambers (which has so far been the case with the joint committee of inquiry into the Spanish edible oil scandal of 1981 happened).

In addition, Art. 109 grants both chambers and their committees the right “to request the necessary information and assistance from the government, its departments and all other authorities of the state and the Autonomous Communities”.

Particularities with regard to the autonomous communities

Art. 150 enables the state to transfer competences to the autonomous communities.

On the other hand, the state can, by law, lay down principles for the harmonization of the normative provisions of the autonomous communities (also in areas which fall within their exclusive competence), insofar as the “general interest” so requires. Both chambers must determine this need by an absolute majority.

If an autonomous community does not fulfill the obligations incumbent on it under the constitution or other laws or if it violates the “general interest of Spain” in any other serious way, the government can urge it to do so by means of “state coercion”. For this, the government requires the approval of the Senado with an absolute majority. (Art. 155)

So far, this article has only been used in 2017 during the Catalonia crisis .

It is noticeable that this is the only constitutional provision that gives the Senado a stronger position than the Congreso , which is not even involved here. This is explained by the fact that Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution is modeled on Article 37 of the Basic Law ( compulsory federal law ) and this only provides for the approval of the Federal Council without the participation of the Bundestag.

Legislative period / dissolution of the chambers

The legislative period for both chambers is four years (Art. 68 and 69 of the Constitution).

Both chambers are dissolved by law in the following three cases: after a new election, the election of a prime minister does not take place (Art. 99); after the government has withdrawn its confidence in the Prime Minister's vote, the election of a new prime minister does not take place (Art . 114), or if a proposal for a “total revision” of the constitution is adopted (Art. 168, see above).

After hearing the government, the Prime Minister can propose to the King at any time, and without any special requirements, that one or both chambers be dissolved (Art. 115). The king must comply with the request and order the dissolution; he is not entitled to a decision-making freedom. The dissolution according to this rule cannot take place if a motion of no confidence is in progress. No further dissolution according to Art. 115 can take place within one year. Theoretically, only one of the two chambers can be dissolved in this way and their legislative periods can fall apart, but this has not yet happened.

A self-dissolution law of the chambers does not exist.

In contrast to the case of the German Bundestag, for example, whose mandate only ends when a new Bundestag convenes ( Art. 39 GG ), the mandate of the chambers of the Cortes Generales ends immediately at the end of the four-year legislative period (calculated from the day of the election ) or with the resolution. In the meantime, until the newly elected chambers are constituted, Diputaciones Permanentes formed from the middle of the two chambers function as “emergency parliaments” (Art. 78).

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Ley Orgánica 5/1985, de 19 de junio, del Régimen Electoral General - LOREG
  2. ( Memento of the original from February 29, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
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  7. ^ Dieter Nohlen: Suffrage and party system . 1986, p. 50ff.
  8. ( Memento of the original of April 22, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  9. Óscar Alzaga Villaamil, Ignacio Gutiérrez Gutiérrez, Jorge Rodríguez Zapata: Derecho político español: Según la Constitución de 1978 . 4th edition 2007, p. 190
  10. Congreso de los Diputados: Commentary on Art. 155 of the Constitution. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on December 12, 2009 ; Retrieved February 18, 2009 (Spanish). Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /