Unit 1: The Political Organization of society

In this unit we will study how the world is politically organized: democratic and non-democratic countries, forms of government and supra-state organizations, etc.

The state is made up of institutions that apply a territory’s laws and powers to regulate the lives of people who live there. The territory is the geographical area under the state’s authority that is limited by borders. Everyone in the state has the same rights and obligations.

The state’s functions are to:

  • Establish laws through parliament.
  • Administer justice.
  • Maintain internal order through the police as well as external security with the army.
  • Collect taxes to pay for services and infrastructure, and to manage the economy.
  • Administer infrastructure, such as roads, and services, such as education.

Democratic and non-democratic states

In democratic states, the citizens elect the government. In a direct democracy, citizens meet in assemblies or hold referendums to make decisions. In a representative democracy citizens elect representatives. These elected individuals make up the parliament.

Democratic elections must be free, plural, apply universal suffrage and be periodical. In democracies, political parties have different views on how to govern. They present their electoral manifesto and their candidates for the citizens to vote on.

In democracies, there is separation of powers. No one institution has all the power. Power is divided into legislative power (making laws through parliament), executive power (government action) and judicial power (ensuring laws are applied fairly and correctly).

There are different democratic states:

  • Constitutional monarchies: the monarch is the head of state, but does not govern.
  • Parliamentary republics: the elected president or prime minister heads the government

In a non-democratic state, one person or one group has all the power and governs according to their own interests. Non-democratic states can be:

  • Absolute monarchies: the king has all the power. He dictates laws, governs and judges.
  • Dictatorships: one person, supported by a political party or the army, has absolute power.

Basics forms of government

The Political organization of Spain

Spain is a constitutional monarchy with a hereditary monarch, where the king is the head of state, but parliament chooses the government. By political custom established by King Juan Carlos since the ratification of the 1978 Constitution, the king’s nominees have all been from parties who maintain a plurality of seats in the Congress. Today the king is the Juan Carlos’ son, Philip VI, (Felip VIè)

The separation of powers ensures that no one authority has too much power. The Constitution divides power into three branches:

  • Legislative power: the power to make laws, held by the parliament. The Spanish Parliament is called the Cortes Generales. There are two houses: the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. The Congress of Deputies (Congrés dels Diputats) with 350 members, elected by popular vote on block lists by proportional representation to serve four-year terms, and a Senate (Senat) with 259 seats of which 208 are directly elected by popular vote, using a limited voting method, and the other 51 appointed by the regional legislatures to also serve four-year terms. Voters elect the members of these houses every four years. Citizens participate in politics through political parties
  • Executive power: the power to apply laws, held by the government. The Spanish Government is made up of the president (chosen by Congress) and the ministers (chosen by the president), All of them are members of the Council of Ministers (Consell de Ministres)
  • Judicial power: the power to enforce laws, held by judges and the courts which are independent of the other branches of power.

The Spanish territory is organized into municipalities, provinces and autonomous communities.

Municipalities are the most basic administrative body. The municipal administration solves citizens’ local problems. A town council governs each municipality with a Mayor or mayoress.

Spanish territory is divided into 50 provinces. Provinces are made up of several municipalities and divide Spain into smaller regions, which are also electoral areas, and helps to municipalities to improve the services that offers to citizens.

The Spanish Constitution was ratified in December 1978. The Constitution recognizes the right to form autonomous communities. Spain is organizationally structured as a so-called Estado de las Autonomías (“State of Autonomies”); it is one of the most decentralized countries in Europe.

The Spanish State is divided into 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities, both groups being the highest or first-order administrative division in the country. All autonomous communities have their own elected parliaments, governments, public administrations, budgets, and resources. Health and education systems among others are managed by the Spanish communities, and in addition, the Basque Country and Navarre also manage their own public finances based on foral provisions. In Catalonia, the Basque Country, Navarre and the Canary Islands, a full-fledged autonomous police corps replaces some State police functions (Mossos d’Esquadra, Ertzaintza, Policía Foral/Foruzaingoa and Policía Canaria).

The basic institutional law of each autonomous community is the Statute of Autonomy. The Statutes of Autonomy establish the name of the community according to its historical and contemporary identity, the limits of its territories, the name and organization of the institutions of government and the rights they enjoy according to the constitution.

The European Union

The European Union is a geo-political entity covering a large portion of the European continent. It is founded upon numerous treaties and has undergone expansions that have taken it from 6 member states to 28, a majority of the states in Europe.

Apart from the ideas of federation, confederation, or customs union such as Winston Churchill’s 1946 call for a “United States of Europe”, the original development of the European Union was based on a supranational foundation that would “make war unthinkable and materially impossible” and reinforce democracy amongst its members as laid out by Robert Schumann and other leaders in the Schumann Declaration (1950) and the Europe Declaration (1951). This principle was at the heart of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) (1951), the Treaty of Paris (1951), and later the Treaty of Rome (1958) which established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC). The ECSC expired in 2002, while the EAEC maintains a distinct legal identity despite sharing members and institutions.

After the Maastricht Treaty (1992), the ECC became the European Union with its pillars system, including foreign and home affairs alongside the European Community. Because of this Treaty:

  • A single common market was established. In 2002, the Euro (official European currency) came into circulation in the eurozone
  • All citizen of the EU were granted European Citizenship.
  • A social level and a cultural, educational and environmental policies were adopted by all the EU’s state members

The Maastricht Treaty has been amended by the treaties of Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2001) and Lisbon (2007).

The European Union has supranational institutions that preside over the individual states:

  • The European Council is made up of the heads of state or governments of the EU member states. The Council defines the EU’s general political direction and priorities.
  • The Council of the European Union: is made up of the ministers from each EU. They can adopt laws and coordinate policies.
  • The European Parliament represents the citizens of the EU. Are composed by Euro deputies which are grouped by political parties, not by states. It is elected democratically by universal suffrage. The Parliament has a legislative function and approve EU Laws and EU Budget, together with the Council of the European Union. They also control the European Commission.
  • The European Commission is made up of one commissioner from each EU State. They have the executive functions: it ensures that agreements and treaties are enforced, manages the EU budget and

In order to achieve this aims, The EU has set up other European institutions:

  • The Court of Justice of the European Union that holds the judicial power and ensures that EU laws are respected and obeyed.
  • The Ombudsman is for EU citizens who feel they have been treated unfairly by any European institution.
  • The European Central Bank is made up of a president, a vice-president and the governors of national central banks from all EU countries.

The Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) is the integration of various EU member countries into a common market that uses a single currency, the euro, since 1999 (virtually) and 2002 (physically). In this market the freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital is respected.

Similarly, it aims to implement a common trade policy with countries that do not belong to this common market.

Negotiations on Spain’s entry into the EEC began in 1979. This took seven years, during which time the Spanish economy had to adapt to the mainstream European economy. Since Spain’s integration into Europe in 1986, the country has seen significant social and economic development thanks to EU funds. Projects in Spain financed by the EU include road and high-speed rail networks, education and health programmes, the restoration of historical buildings and the construction of cultural complexes.

Any country that satisfies the conditions for membership can apply. These conditions are known as the ‘Copenhagen criteria’ and include a free-market economy, a stable democracy and the rule of law, and the acceptance of all EU legislation, including of the euro.

In the 2016 referendum the people of the United Kingdom voted in favour of leaving the European Union. The UK has left the EU on 31 January 2020. This process is known as Brexit.

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