Spanish Constitution of 1978

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The Spanish Constitution of 1978 is the culmination of the Spanish transition to democracy.



The constitutional history of Spain dates back to the constitution of 1812. After the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, a general election in 1977 convened the Constituent Cortes (parliament) for the purpose of drafting and approving a constitution.

A seven-member panel was selected among the elected members of the Cortes to work on a draft of the Constitution to be submitted to the body. These so-called "Fathers of the Constitution" were:

  • Gabriel Cisneros
  • José Pedro Pérez-Llorca
  • Miguel Herrero de Miñón
  • Miquel Roca
  • Manuel Fraga Iribarne
  • Gregorio Peces-Barba
  • Jordi Solé Tura

Among the contributors there was the writer and senator for royal appointment Camilo José Cela (later Nobel Prize of Literature), who corrected the usage. However since a good deal of the consensus involved ambiguity of language, not many of Cela's proposals were passed. One of the accepted ones was the substitution the archaic gualda ("wheat-colored") for the plain amarillo ("yellow") in the description of the flag of Spain[1].

The constitution was approved by the Cortes Generales on October 31, 1978, and by the Spanish people in a referendum on December 6, 1978, before being promulgated by King Juan Carlos on December 27. December 6 has since been a national holiday in Spain.


Writing the preamble of the constitution was considered an honour, and a task requiring great literary ability. The person chosen for this purpose was Enrique Tierno Galván. The full text of the preamble states:

The Spanish Nation, wishing to establish justice, liberty and security, and to promote the welfare of all who make part of it, in use of her sovereignty, proclaims its will to:
Guarantee democratic life within the Constitution and the laws according to a just economic and social order.
Consolidate a State ensuring the rule of law as an expression of the will of the people.
Protect all Spaniards and all the peoples of Spain in the exercise of human rights, their cultures and traditions, languages and institutions.
Promote the progress of culture and the economy to ensure a dignified quality of life for all
Establish an advanced democratic society, and
Collaborate in the strengthening of peaceful and efficient cooperation among all the peoples of the Earth.
Consequently, the Cortes approve and the Spanish people ratify the following Constitution.


The Spanish Constitution has been reformed once (Article 13.2, Title I) to extend to citizens of the European Union the right to active and passive suffrage (both voting rights and eligibility as candidates) in local elections.

The socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has announced its intention to undertake a major reform of the constitution during its tenure. The proposed modifications would include

  1. succession in the monarchy on the basis of age only, and not gender, thus abandoning the traditional Castilian rules set in the Siete Partidas. While the rights of the current heir apparent Felipe, Prince of Asturias, are to be maintained, the goal is to reform before his eventual children are born. This issue has been refreshed when Felipe's wife, Letizia, announced her pregnancy and after the birth of the Infanta Leonor of Spain.
  2. an overhaul of the Spanish Senate transforming it into a chamber of territorial representation
  3. officially incorporating the European Constitution (should one be approved)
  4. modifying the organisation of the autonomous communities

The proposal has been met with scepticism from some quarters (notably the main opposition party PP) because some of these reforms affect protected sections of the constitution, which would require strong supermajorities in order to be modified (see below). Furthermore, even an amendment of a non-protected part of the Constitution would require PP agreement, because requires the support of 3/5 of each House, which is 210 votes in the Congress of Deputies and 156 in the Senate. The maximum majority without the PP is 202 votes in the Congress of Deputies and 133 in the Senate.

Protected provisions

The Constitution itself determines in Title X that a new constitution must be written, should there be the need to reform the Preliminary Title; Title I, Section I, Chapter II; or Title II. These "special" sections indicate what the drafters of the constitution considered fundamental about the regime they were establishing: that the "fundamental rights and public liberties" cannot be changed without regime change; and that Spain is a constitutional monarchy. From a logical point of view, since Title X does not protect itself, it would be possible to first reform Title X and then change the previously protected articles.

The reform of the autonomy statutes

The plan conducted by the Basque president Juan José Ibarretxe (known as Ibarretxe Plan) to reform the status of the Basque Country in the Spanish state has been rejected by the Spanish Cortes, on the grounds (among others) that it amounts to an implicit reform of the Constitution.

The People's Party has attempted to reject the admission in Cortes of the 2005 reform of the Autonomy Statute of Catalonia on the grounds that it should be dealt with as a constitutional reform rather than a mere statute reform.


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