Functions of the Senate

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 (section 66) bestows upon the Cortes Generales, and therefore the Senate, three typical functions of any parliament: the legislative power of the State, the approval of budgets, and the supervision of Government action. In addition to these, there are others outlined in other articles of the Constitution. 

Legislative function

The Congress of Deputies and the Senate participate in the approval procedure for State laws. This approval follows a public process of deliberation which allows their opinions to reach public opinion. This participation in the legislative function is not carried out on equal grounds between the two Houses: 

  • The parliamentary tabling of all legislative texts usually begins in the Congress of Deputies, in contrast to what happens in other countries, where the author of the bill can choose which House should discuss the text first (section 88 of the Constitution). Only in one case does the Senate intervene in the legislative process before the Congress of Deputies: in projects of the Interterritorial Compensation Fund, an exception to the general rule which is justified on the grounds that the Senate is conceived as the House of territorial representation (sections 74.2 and 158.2 of the Constitution).
  • The Senate must deliberate on texts that have already been approved by the Congress of Deputies in a brief and limited period of time: normally two months and twenty days if the process has been declared urgent; a strict period of time in contrast to the almost unlimited period given to Congress (sections 90 of the Constitution and 106 and 133 to 135 of the Senate Standing Orders). 
  • The Senate can lodge a veto or introduce amendments to legislative texts that are referred to it by the Congress of Deputies. A veto can be approved by gaining an absolute majority in the Senate, and amendments by a simple majority. In both cases, these initiatives are referred back to Congress. The Congress of Deputies can reject the veto, ratifying the text presented to the Senate by an absolute majority or by a simple majority once two months have passed since its interposition. Congress also rules on the amendments of the Senate, accepting or rejecting them by a simple majority (sections 90 of the Constitution and 106 and 122 of the Senate Standing Orders).

 

For more information: 

 

Budgetary function

This entails approving State expenditure, which is done annually through the General State Budget Act. The Budget outlines the expected revenues, normally obtained through taxation, and fixes the maximum number of credits assigned to each state body or function. Their impact on the country's economy and in the implementation of public policy is very important.


The procedure is similar to the legislative one, but with a few nuances. Their presentation is reserved for the Government. The corresponding bill must be presented by the 1st October of each year, so that it may be approved and enter into effect before the corresponding year, in other words, prior to the 1st January. However, if, for any reason, it is not approved, the budgets from the previous year are automatically extended. The presentation of amendments is subject to very strict conditions, for example any amendments that entail an increase in credit under any heading may only be taken into consideration if the amendment itself proposes a reduction of the same amount in the same section to which it refers.

 

For more information: 

- Special legislative procedure. General State Budgets

 

Authorisation of international treaties

International Treaties and Covenants are negotiated and signed by the Government by virtue of its constitutional attributions. In general, for international treaties to be declared binding for Spain and become part of its legal regime, Parliament must previously authorise their ratification so that, if this requirement is not met, said treaties and covenants will not be considered binding for Spain and will not be incorporated into its legal regime. In this respect, they are examined by the Congress of Deputies and by the Senate. Furthermore, in this authorisation function, the powers of the Senate are deemed to be practically on a par with those of the Lower House. Hence, if there is disagreement between the two Houses, a Mixed Committee must be set up, made up of an equal number of Congress members and Senators, which must endeavour to reach an agreement about this matter, and their findings are then presented to both Houses. If authorisation is not obtained in this manner, Congress will decide by an absolute majority.

 

For more information: 

- Authorisation of International Treaties and Covenants

 

Supervision and political impetus

The Houses monitor, supervise and may criticise the action of the Government, which allows them to obtain information and guide Government policy. This also contributes to the Government’s feeling that it is controlled by representatives of the people.


This function is carried out by means of a series of instruments regulated in the Standing Orders, questions, interpellations, motions, debates about communications and reports sent out by the Government, appearances, and Enquiry and Special Committees.

 

For more information:

Territorial integration

This function encompasses a series of Senate interventions related to its definition of a House of territorial representation. In such interventions, the Senate's powers are on a par with those of the Congress of Deputies, and it even has the power to pass judgement first or exclusively. They are as follows:

  • Authorisation of cooperation agreements between Self-Governing Communities.

For more information:

- Authorisation of cooperation agreements between Self-Governing Communities.

  • Provision, distribution and regulation of the Interterritorial Compensation Fund.
  • Evaluation of the need to pass laws harmonising the normative provisions of the Self-Governing Communities.

For more information:

- Evaluation of the need to pass harmonisation laws 

  • Adoption of binding measures for the Self-Governing Communities regarding the mandatory fulfilment of their constitutional and legal obligations or preventing their action when it would gravely harm the general interests of Spain (section 155.1 of the Constitution).

For more information:
- Application of section 155.1 of the Constitution

  • Authorisation to proceed with the dissolution of local government bodies should their actions be considered very harmful to general interests and a breach of their constitutional obligations (section 61 of the Local Government Act).

 

Election of other bodies

The Congress and the Senate elect all or many of the members of certain constitutional bodies or bodies of particular importance.


Specifically, the Senate chooses:

 

Election procedures of other bodies:

  • Constitutional Court
  • General Council of Judicial Power
  • Ombudsman
  • Court of Auditors
  • Board of Directors of the RTVE Corporation
  • Advisory Board for the Spanish Data Protection Agency