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Autonomous communities of Spain

This article is part of the series
Politics of Spain

The Crown - Head of State

Cortes Generales - Legislative branch
   Congress of Deputies
   Regional legislatures

Government - Executive branch
   President of the Government
   Council of Ministers
   Regional governments

Judicial system - Judicial branch
   General Council of the Judicial Power
   Constitutional Court
   Supreme Court
   Regional high courts

   1977 Political Reform Act
   1978 Constitution
Autonomous communities
Madrid (capital city)

Spain's fifty provinces (provincias) are grouped into seventeen autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas), in addition to two African autonomous cities (ciudades autónomas) (Ceuta and Melilla).


Formation and Powers

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 both with the previous Francoist regime and with most modern territorial arrangements in Western European nations.

The autonomous communities have wide legislative and executive autonomy, with their own parliaments and regional governments. As an example, in Catalonia the regional government has allowed registered partnership between homosexuals in order to bring their rights on a par with heterosexual married couples, whereas this form of partnership has no legal standing in the rest of Spain. Similar laws have been enacted by some cities, though.

The distribution of competences is different for every community, collected in the "autonomy statute" (estatuto de autonomía). There is a de facto distinction between "historic" communities (Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, and 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 at most 4 years apart). As another example, the Basque Country and Catalonia have full-range police forces of their own: Ertzaintza in the Basque Country and Mossos d'Esquadra in Catalonia. Other communities have a limited-bailiwick one or none at all.

The Constitution recognizes the historical rights of regions in general terms. This is a reference to the special status of certain regions with respect to the whole as a result of past agreements between the central government and the region, some times centuries ago. It is understood that those rights need to be actualized through the estatuto de autonomía. This explains why the Basque Country and Navarre collect taxes and negotiate with the Spanish government on how much they must contribute to the state's treasury while the rest receive allocations according to the "transferred" government functions.

The initial intent was not that every part of Spain should become part of an autonomous community, but that only the "historic" communities would be created. However, shortly after the Constitution was approved, a wave of creation of autonomous communities ensued. This was dubbed café para todos ("coffee for everybody") by critics of the decentralization.

There has been a tendency for "slow-track" communities to aspire to the function range of their elders. Even in communities without a separatist tradition, the local branches of parties fight for more power and budgets. Current points of disagreement are tax collection and representation at institutions of the European Union.

The Spanish Constitution of 1931 gave autonomy to Catalonia Galicia and the Basque Country, but the Spanish civil war crushed this experiment.


Here is a list of the communities and provinces.

Local name(s)
Capital Provinces Capital
Sp. Sevilla
Almería Almería
Cádiz Cádiz
Córdoba Córdoba
Granada Granada
Huelva Huelva
Jaén Jaén
Málaga Málaga
Seville Seville
Zaragoza Huesca Huesca
Teruel Teruel
Zaragoza Zaragoza
As. Asturies
Oviedo Asturias
As. Asturies
Balearic Islands
Cat. Illes Balears
Sp. Islas Baleares
Palma de Mallorca Balearic Islands
Cat. Illes Balears
Sp. Islas Baleares
Palma de Mallorca
Basque Country (autonomous community)
Ba. Euskadi
Sp. País Vasco
Ba. Gasteiz
Ba. Araba
Ba. Gasteiz
Ba. Gipuzkoa
San Sebastián
Ba. Donostia
Ba. Bizkaia
Ba. Bilbo
Canary Islands
Islas Canarias
Santa Cruz de Tenerife/
Las Palmas
Santa Cruz de Tenerife Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Las Palmas Las Palmas
Cantabria Santander Cantabria Santander
Cat. Catalunya
Sp. Cataluña
Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
Sp. Gerona
Sp. Gerona
Sp. Lérida
Sp. Lérida
Tarragona Tarragona
Castile-La Mancha
Castilla-La Mancha
Toledo Albacete Albacete
Ciudad Real Ciudad Real
Cuenca Cuenca
Guadalajara Guadalajara
Toledo Toledo

Castilla y León
Valladolid Ávila Ávila
Burgos Burgos
León León
Palencia Palencia
Salamanca Salamanca
Segovia Segovia
Soria Soria
Valladolid Valladolid
Zamora Zamora
Extremadura Mérida Badajoz Badajoz
Cáceres Cáceres
Ga. Galiza
Santiago de Compostela A Coruña
Sp. La Coruña
A Coruña
Sp. La Coruña
Lugo Lugo
Sp. Orense
Sp. Orense
Pontevedra Pontevedra
La Rioja Logroño La Rioja Logroño
Madrid Madrid Madrid Madrid
Murcia Murcia Murcia Murcia
Ba. Nafarroa
Sp. Navarra
Ba. Iruña
Ba. Nafarroa
Sp. Navarra
Ba. Iruña
Vl. Comunitat Valenciana
Sp. Comunidad Valenciana
Valencia Alicante
Vl. Alacant
Vl. Alacant
Vl. Castelló
Castellón de la Plana
Vl. Castelló de la Plana
Vl. València
Vl. València

See also:

The map is stable, though some minorities claim separate communities for León, Orihuela and Álava. Also, there is an enclave of Burgos (Castilla y León) inside Álava (País Vasco), called Condado de Treviño where some inhabitants would like to leave Burgos and join Álava.

Plazas de soberanía

There are five "places of sovereignty" (plazas de soberanía) near Morocco, under direct Spanish administration:

External link

  • Spanish autonomous communities (

Last updated: 02-04-2005 11:28:35
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01