The Spanish State structure Estado de las Autonomías, a federal structure?

IV The notion of federalism and the Spanish State

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IV The notion of federalism and the Spanish State

A federal principle

Distribution of powers

Residual power

Concurrent powers

Scope of powers and functions

International relations

Economic Union

Social & cultural affairs

Law and security

Financial & Fiscal powers

Inequality or asymmetry


Territorial representation









After the death of general Franco, in 1975, who had ruled Spain since 1939 a democratisation process was set in motion to establish a new state structure. This process led to the creation of a new constitution that came about in 1978. The Spanish State structure was fundamentally changed by this new constitution. Not only did it establish Spain as a modern European democracy, it also brought about a radical decentralisation. The Spanish constitution (SC) formally established the Estado de las Autonomías which allowed for the division of the country via the creation of the autonomous communities. The latter were to form an extra level of government on top of the existing provinces and municipalities, but with a high level of self-determination.

Though constitutionally enshrined, the Spanish State structure as established by the 1978 Constitution was not set in stone. The constitution allowed for an open process in which the autonomous communities could come about. As such, it established the framework in which the autonomous communities have to develop their self determination. A development that does not appear to have come to a standstill yet.

Explicitly labelled as the state of the autonomies, the Spanish constitution apparently did not seek to establish a federal state model. Article 145.1SC even explicitly prohibits the existence of a federation of autonomous communities in Spain. Nevertheless, with its division into communities with a certain level of autonomy, the Spanish state form does seem to bear an extensive resemblance to a federal structure. Subsequently, the question arises; in which sense does the Spanish Estado de las Autonomías differ from a federal state structure, and how will the state structure develop in the future?


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