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The Spanish Constitution

Spain's Constitution

Spain's Constitution. After the death of the Franco, all the Spanish political groups got together in 1978 to edit Spain's present-day constitution.

After centuries of being ruled by kings who had absolute power, the forceful arrival of Napoleon created unexpected changes in Spanish soil and for its inhabitants. The first Spanish constitution was passed in 1812, yet was unsuccessful in practice given that the word “constitution” was a difficult concept to grasp for people who had never been granted the right to have “rights”. The changes that took place throughout the XIX century led it to be the age in which various constitutions took place in Spain. Some only applied during war time, others were completely disregarded by either the political parties or the people, and a few only lasted as long as the man who promoted them was the government's leader. What is true is that all of them were short-lived, and none of them carried the voice of the people, which is considered a fundamental key element of any government.

In 1808 there was the Bayonne constitution, which was never enacted. In 1812 the Cádiz constitution came at a time when people thought that things were going to change after the Napoleonic wars, but no change came. There was a constitution written in 1837, one in 1845, in 1856, in 1869, and in 1873, each one suppressed by changes in the ruling body of the Spanish government. With the second Republic came the 1931 constitution which approved the first Catalan Statute. Then the Civil War arrived and was followed by the long dark years of Franco dictatorship, during which neither constitutions nor statutes were considered to be safe. An official referendum in 1947 made the Spanish state a monarchy, but dictator Francisco Franco reserved his powers as regent and the right to personally designate a successor. He avoided naming one right away to avoid political conflict, although later, in 1969, he finally designated Bourbon Prince Juan Carlos as his successor.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978

After the death of the Franco, representatives of all the Spanish political groups got together in 1978 to write Spain's present-day constitution. It was put to a referendum on 6th December of the same year with 87% of the votes in favor of its approval. It was sanctioned by King Juan Carlos on 12th December and published in the Boletín Oficial del Estado (Official State Bulletin) on 29th December 1978. The 1978 Constitution proclaims that Spain is a social and democratic state governed by law and declares liberty, justice, equality, and political pluralism to be the country's foremost values. This new constitution came into effect on 1st January 1979 and defined Spain as a parliamentary monarchy with no official religion, where the head of state reigns but does not rule. It also prescribed a limited role for the armed forces and the church, the abolition of the death penalty, and an extension of suffrage.

This new constitution also granted the right for historical communities to form autonomous regions in Spain. It acknowledges the existence of more nationalities within a united and indivisible Spanish nation. The first regions to be recognized as “historical nationalities” were the Euskadi (Basque Country), Catalonia and Galicia. The nation is openly multilingual and the defense of regional tongues is explicitly cited in the pivotal Article 3:

  1. Castilian (Spanish) is the official language of the State. All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it.
  2. Other (Iberian) languages are official in their respective autonomous communities according to the Statutes.
  3. The wealth of the different language variations in Spain is a cultural heritage that shall be the object of special respect and protection.

This was widely criticized by right-wing groups which thought the unity of Spain was compromised, and it is still a source of argument today.

The approval of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 signifies for Spain and the Spaniards years of joy and progress after two difficult centuries (19th and 20th). In Spain, 6th December is a national holiday in which the Spanish nation celebrates “Dia de la Constitución” (Constitution Day).