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Understanding Spanish Government and Politics

Martha Lott

Written by

5th May 2023 (Last updated on 29th Nov 2023) 6 minute read

If you’re considering moving to Spain, it can be good to grasp the politics before moving. We also recommend researching Spanish culture and religion in Spain.

This article will outline how the Spanish government operates and its main parties. We'll also detail ongoing political tensions and how expats can play a part in politics.

  1. What is the Current Government in Spain?
  2. Spanish Government Branches
  3. What are the Main Political Parties?
  4. Politics of Catalonia
  5. Basque Separatism
  6. How Often are General Elections in Spain?
  7. Can UK Expats Vote in Spain?
  8. Moving to Spain from the UK

What is the Current Government in Spain?

Spain's prime minister is Pedro Sánchez of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, who came to power in 2019. As Pedro’s party did not win a majority in the last election, Spain's first coalition government was made. The socialists teamed up with United We Can to form the current coalition (coalición progresista).

Spain has been a democratic constitutional monarchy (parliamentary monarchy) since 1975. This means the business of governing is handled by a prime minister and their cabinet. The King acts as a symbolic figurehead without executive power. Voting occurs through universal adult suffrage. Voters support a party rather than voting for individual candidates.

Spanish Government Branches

The powers of the state are managed by the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. These branches oversee Spain’s regions and their respective parliaments.

National Politics

At the top of Spain’s government resides the executive branch. This includes the Prime Minister of Spain, their deputy ministers and the cabinet. This branch can curate new laws for the legislative assembly and regional parliaments.

Below the executive branch sits the legislative, comprised of the Spanish parliament. The parliament is separated into two bodies - the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. These represent the lower and upper houses of the Spanish parliament respectively.

Regional Politics

Spain is split into a total of 17 regions, commonly referred to as autonomous communities. Each of these regions is subject to the laws of the national government. However, these regions still possess a large degree of freedom to govern themselves.

Regional identity is prevalent in many parts of Spain. Particular areas of note include Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia. These particular regions are often referred to as ‘historic nationalities’. These regions operate with a greater deal of autonomy compared to other areas of Spain.

Provincial Council

Provincial councils are responsible for administrating Spain’s 50 provinces (provincias). These 50 provinces are sub-divisions of Spain’s 17 regions. Each province consists of a collection of municipalities (municipios).

A provincial council can manage services not available at the municipal level. It’s worth noting that certain autonomous regions contain a single province, so they don’t have provincial councils.

Local Government

Municipal governments (ayuntamientos) reside at the local level. There are over 8,000 municipal governments, each consisting of a council, commission and mayor.

Municipal governments can pass local regulations, as long as they conform to higher legislation. They can also levy taxes to supplement funding received from the national government.

Judiciary of Spain

The judiciary works separately from Spain’s other government branches. The leading party of the judiciary is the General Council (Consejo General del Poder Judicial/CGPJ). A General Council consists of 20 high judges, who elect a Supreme Court justice as their head.

The judiciary mirrors the structure of the government, starting with the National High Court. Below them reside the High Courts of Justice for each autonomous region. Each high court is split into civil, criminal, judicial review and employment sectors. These are then followed by Provincial Courts.

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What are the Main Political Parties?

There are currently 6 leading political parties in Spain.

Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español/PSOE)

The oldest party in Spanish politics, the PSOE Govern as part of a coalition with UP. Having won the last snap election in November 2019, they currently hold 120 seats out of 350 in Congress. They are helmed by current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

    Popular Party (Partido Popular/PP)

    The main opposition party that governed Spain between 2016 and 2019, Partido Popular held 89 seats in Congress, making them the second-largest party in parliament. PP promotes policies of strong nationalist ideology.

    United We Can (Unidas Podemos/UP)

    As one of the newest parties in parliament, UP was formed in 2016 by merging 14 left-wing groups together. UP emphasises legislation on public control. Their policy line handles issues like tackling poverty, a basic living wage and combatting tax avoidance.


      Being the most far-right party in Spanish politics, Vox was formed in 2014. The party advocates for the centralisation of Spain. As such, they are particularly opposed to Catalonia and the Basque Country independence.

        Citizens (Ciudadanos/Cs)

        One of the older parties, Cs combine social democratic and liberal ideologies. The party policy usually regards the upholding of individual and social rights. Examples include the promotion of the welfare state and maintaining Europe’s unity.

        More Country (Más País/MP)

        The newest entity on Spain’s political spectrum, MP was formed in the run-up to the November 2019 elections. The group was created as a national extension of Más Madrid, the foremost regional party of Madrid.

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        Politics of Catalonia

        Catalonia is renowned for its advocacy for independence. As an example, Catalan is the second most prominent language in Spain. Many Catalans believe their region is underfunded, as it is the second most profitable region behind Madrid. The desire for Catalonian independence has seen a rise in recent years.

        A recent example of this is the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, which saw high approvals among a vast majority of voters. However, due to a low turnout, it was ruled illegal by the national government. Talks among the regional government and Catalonians regarding independence still continue.

        Basque Separatism

        As another historic nationality, the Basque Country retains a strong sense of individual identity. Many Basques consider themselves a separate populace from the native Spanish. Basques have a unique language, just like the occupants of Catalonia.

        The Basque's quest for independence has boiled over into violence in the past century. The most prominent example is the attacks conducted by the militant group ETA. With ETA dissolving in 2018, Basque Country has seen a period of relative peace in recent years. The Catalan referendum did spark concurrent demonstrations in the Basque Country.

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        How Often are General Elections in Spain?

        A general election in Spain must be held 4 years or sooner from the last. PSOE assumed power in 2019, so another doesn’t need to happen until December 2023.

        Regional and local legislatures also serve four-year terms, with most of these elections occurring on the same weekend. Typically, the election takes place on the fourth Sunday of May in the year before a leap year.

        Can UK Expats Vote in Spain?

        Spanish citizenship is required to vote in the country’s general elections. Citizenship can only be obtained after residing in Spain for a minimum of 10 years.

        Expats can vote in regional and municipal elections without Spanish citizenship. Whether you live or rent in Spain, you will need to register to vote at your local city hall. To register, you'll need the following documents:

        • Proof of address.
        • A valid passport.
        • An official residency card.

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        Moving to Spain from the UK

        If you’re looking to rent or buy property in Spain, Compare My Move can help move your possessions to your new home. Our accredited international removal partners are fully insured until they reach their destination.

        Fill out our form and we’ll match you with up to 6 suitable removal firms. If you’re unsure what to look for, our guide on choosing an international removal company can help.

        Martha Lott

        Written by Martha Lott

        Having guest authored for many property websites, Martha now researches and writes articles for everything moving house related, from remortgages to conveyancing costs.