Parliament (Cortes Generales)

Last updated on 25/02/2016

Cortes Generales = Congress of Deputies + Senate

Cortes Generales is the official name of the Spanish Parliament, comprising two Houses (Congress of Deputies and the Senate). This is the traditional name in Spain: the mediaeval assemblies of various peninsular kingdoms were called Cortes. And this is also the name that was maintained in the majority of the constitutions drawn up in the 19th Century, and which has also been adopted by various regional Parliaments.

The importance of the Cortes Generales as a State body derives from the fact that they represent the Spanish people who, as established by section 66.1 of the Constitution of 1978, hold sovereignty(section 1.2 of the Constitution).

The Constitution contains common provisions for the two Houses that make up the Cortes Generales and specific provisions for each of them.

Common features of the two Houses

The general provisions, as well as indicating their shared definition as representatives of the Spanish people, include the following stipulations:

  • The functions they perform are:
    1. legislative, consisting of passing legislation;
    2. budgetary, materialised through the approval of annual State revenues and expenditures;
    3. supervising the actions of the Government and political momentum, instrumented through different procedures (questions, interpellations, motions, appearances), and
    4. other functions, established in the Constitution itself.
  • The declaration that both Houses are inviolable, which prevents the taking of coercive action against them (section 72 of the Constitution).
  • The prohibition of belonging to both Houses simultaneously (section 67.1 of the Constitution).
  • The prohibition of imperative mandate for members of both Houses, which means that Congress Members and Senators are free to express themselves and vote, without being subject to any indications or instructions. This does not prevent members of the Congress and Senate from voluntarily accepting the discipline of their Parliamentary Group (section 67.2 of the Constitution).
  • The inviolability of members of Congress and the Senate as a result of expressions manifested in the performance of their duties and immunity, which prevents them from being put on trial or charged without the prior authorisation of their respective House, by means of supplication (section 71 of the Constitution).
  • The periods of session, or spaces of time in which, ordinarily, the Houses may exercise their functions (from February to June and from September to December) (section 73 of the Constitution).

The Civil Service bodies that serve the Houses are also common to both, and are governed by the Statute of Parliamentary Staffing, approved jointly by the Bureaus of the two Houses.

Specialities of each House

The functions outlined above are common to the Congress and the Senate. However, the procedures and powers of each House can differ. Hence, the legislative procedure, which usually begins in Congress and in which the Senate intervenes subsequently as the House in which proposed legislation is given a second reading, is developed differently in each House, with different possibilities for action.

In the performance of their functions, the Constitution recognises the full autonomy of the Congress and the Senate in their internal aspects. Each House separately approves its Regulations, its expenditure and revenue budget, and chooses its Speaker and other members of the Bureau (section 72 of the Constitution).

In terms of the bicameral Parliamentary system, the Cortes Generales usually act separately. The only cases in which joint action occurs are for the adoption of decisions pertaining to the Crown, such as the proclamation of the King, the proclamation of the heir apparent, the provision of succession to the Crown when all the rightful lines have extinguished, and the appointment of the Regency. In practice, the two Houses meet together for the formal opening of a Legislature by the King.

In accordance with the above, each Chamber has its own Committees. However, for specific matters, there are mixed Committees, made up of members of Congress and Senators.