THE SPANISH SENATE
I - COMPOSITION
The Senate provides territorial representation. It has 259 members, of whom:
- 208 are elected by universal suffrage:
- 4 senators for each of the 47 mainland provinces;
- 3 senators for each of the largest islands (Gran Canaria, Mallorca and Tenerife);
- 1 senator for each of the other islands or groups of islands (Ibiza-Formentera, Minorca, Fuerteventura, Gomera, Hierro, Lanzarote and La Palma) ;
- 2 senators for Ceuta and 2 for Melilla;
- 51 are indirectly elected:
- 1 senator appointed by each of the 17 Autonomous Communities, and another for every million inhabitants in the constituency.
II - ÉLECTORAL SYSTEM
A mixed system:
1) direct election: by a simple majority. Lists are drawn up at provincial level.
2) indirect election: elections are organised by legislative assemblies by proportional ballot and according to their own procedural rules.
Term of office: 4 years.
Most recent election: 12 March 2000.
Vacant seats are occupied by substitutes who are elected at the same time as the titular members.
Criteria for eligibility: 18 years of age.
It is permissible to be elected to the Parliament and be a member of the Government at the same time.
III - ORGANISATION OF SESSIONS
A - ORDINARY SESSIONS
The Senate meets in two ordinary sessions every year: the first runs from September to December; the second from February to June.
B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS
The Senate may meet in extraordinary session with a fixed agenda at the request of the Government or the Permanent Deputation (membership proportionate to party representation), or by an absolute majority of senators.
C - In practice, the Senate normally meets in plenary session on two days a week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Its commissions meet much more frequently.
The Senate meets about 50 days a year.
IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER HOUSES AND THE EXECUTIVE
The Cortes generales (General Courts, or Parliament) consists of the Congress of Deputies and the Senate; they may meet in a joint session chaired by the President of the Congress.
A - LEGISLATIVE POWER
1) The right to propose legislation
This right lies with the Senate, the Government and the Congress of Deputies. The Constitution also provides for citizens' right to introduce bills (500,000 signatures required).
In budgetary matters, any proposal that could increase loans or reduce budgetary receipts must have the Government's agreement before it can proceed.
2) Right of amendment
Yes. In budgetary matters, any amendment that could increase loans or reduce budgetary receipts must have the Government's agreement before it can proceed.
3) Legislative procedure
a) Lodging and forwarding
Government bills are submitted to the Congress of Deputies in the first instance.
Any draft law adopted by Congress is forwarded to the Senate, which has two months in which to veto it (by an absolute majority) or amend it (20 clear days where the Government or the Congress has stated that the matter is urgent).
The bill may only be promulgated if Congress ratifies the original draft by an absolute majority, by a veto (a simple majority after the two-month period after the issuing of the veto has elapsed), or if it delivers its views on amendments by accepting them or by rejecting them by a simple majority.
b) Adoption in committee
Except in matters involving a constitutional review, international questions, organic laws, framework laws and the General State Budget, the Senate and the Congress of Deputies may delegate the adoption of draft laws and private bills to standing legislative commissions.
However, when meeting in plenary session, it may at any time call for a debate or a vote on any government or private bill within its remit.
B - SUPERVISORY POWERS
1) Supervisory Commissions
The Senate, either alone or (if appropriate) jointly with the Congress, may appoint commissions of inquiry to look into any matter of public interest.
People summoned to appear before these commissions face punishment if they fail to do so.
The Senate may pass on petitions it receives to the Government. The Government is obliged to explain what they say whenever the Senate so requires.
3) Information required by the Senate
The Senate and its commissions may ask for any information and assistance they might need from the Government and its departments, and from any other body of the State or the Autonomous Communities.
The Senate and its commissions may order members of the Government to attend.
The Senate is immediately informed of the signing of international treaties and agreements that do not need to have been previously submitted to the Cortes (see below).
4) Cross-questioning and interrogations
The Government and each of its ministers may be subject to cross-questioning and interrogation by senators. Under Senate rules, a minimum period is reserved each week for this kind of debate.
Any cross-questioning can lead to a motion whereby the Senate makes known its position.
Except when a motion of censure is being debated, the Senate (like the Congress and the Cortes generales) may be dissolved by Royal Decree on a proposal by the President of the government and after deliberation by the Council of ministers.
The Senate may not be dissolved again for a year except by the King and countersigned by the President of the Congress where, within two months of the initial vote of confidence that the Congress asks of the person standing for President, no candidate has obtained the confidence of Congress.
6) Authorisation to ratify certain treaties and international agreements (see V-B-3 below)
V - SPECIAL MEASURES
A - CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW
1) Initiative by the Senate (and also by the Congress and the Government);
Draft laws must be adopted by each house by a three-fifths majority.
If the two houses do not agree, a joint commission presents a document for the Congress and Senate to vote on.
If they do agree, the Congress can approve the review by a two-thirds majority as long as the Senate has adopted the document under examination by an absolute majority.
As soon as the review is approved by the Cortes, it is decided by a referendum if, within 15 days of its approval, one tenth of the members of one of the houses so requests.
Any comprehensive review of the Constitution or of its provisions dealing with the founding principles of the State, fundamental rights and public freedoms, and the Crown must be approved by a two-thirds majority in each house, and the Cortes are immediately dissolved. The review will then have to be approved in both newly elected houses by a two-thirds majority before it is ratified by the Cortes and decided by a referendum.
B- POWERS OF THE GENERAL COURTS
1) The General Courts are mainly competent in matters of local administration and those relating to the Autonomous Communities, and particularly in respect of:
- approving any alteration to provincial boundaries;
- in certain cases authorising the establishment of an Autonomous Community or (possibly deciding on) autonomy status for territories that are not integrated into the provincial organisation;
- approving reviews of the statutes of the Autonomous Communities;
- grant legislative delegations to the Autonomous Communities in matters relating to the competence of the State; legislation adopted by the Communities under this heading will be monitored by the Cortes;
- ratifying draft autonomy statutes.
2) The General Courts also authorise the declaration of war and the conclusion of peace agreements.
3) In certain cases, decisions of the Cortes are adopted by a majority in each house; they include:
- the authorisation to ratify certain treaties and international agreements;
- the authorisation of certain cooperation agreements between the Autonomous Communities;
- distribution among the Autonomous Communities and Provinces of compensation fund money earmarked for investment.
In the first example, the procedure begins with the Congress; in the other two, it begins with the Senate.
In all the examples, if there is no agreement between the Senate and the Congress, a joint commission will try to draw up a text that will have to be voted on by both houses.
Otherwise, the Congress will decide by an absolute majority.
4) Concerning the monarchy, the Cortes deal with the succession to the throne in the event of there being no direct descendant.
The General Courts may exclude from the royal succession a person who is eligible but who has breached a matrimonial ban issued by the King and the Cortes.
The General Courts are also competent to:
- recognise the King's inability to perform his duties;
- appoint a Regency Council, when appropriate;
- appoint a tutor to a King still in his minority.
5) The Accounting Office comes directly under the control of the Cortes, and is delegated by the General Courts to examine and check the general accounts of the State.
C - POWERS OF APPOINTMENT
1) Proposal by the Senate on the King's nomination: 4 of the 20 members of the General Council of Judicial Power.
2) By a three-fifths majority in the Senate: 4 of the 12 members of the Constitutional Tribunal.
D - MONITORING CONSTITUTIONALITY
The matter must be presented to the Constitutional Tribunal by 50 senators.
E - Approval by the Senate of the necessary measures taken by the Government to force an Autonomous Community to comply with its obligations or to protect the general interest of Spain.