The Senate in the spanish bicameral system

Last updated on 26/02/2016

The Senate, a House of reflection and territorial representation

The Senate, together with the Congress of Deputies, makes up the Spanish Parliament or Cortes Generales, which, therefore, takes the form of a bicameral Parliamentary system.

The existence of this second House has been a constant feature of Spanish constitutionalism, except during short periods of time. Furthermore, the bicameral model is in place in almost all democracies with a medium to high level of population: the aim is to structure a country's representation, taking into account a dual perspective, and to ensure the best consideration for important decisions that must be made by the national Parliament.

The Spanish Senate, as outlined in the Constitution of 1978, conforms to a dual definition. On the one hand, just like the Congress of Deputies, it represents the Spanish people. In this regard, it performs a duty of reflection or reconsideration, offering the possibility of examining and, if required, opposing or modifying the decisions made by the Lower House by means of vetoes or amendments. On the other hand, it is the House of territorial representation. This second aspect is a direct consequence of the configuration of the State as a State of Self-Governing Communities, in other words, organised into Self-Governing Communities with significant powers. The aim of this definition is to make way in central Parliament for the voice and interests of these territorial entities in order to achieve greater integration and coordination between the central and regional powers. This feature clearly differentiates the Senate from the first House or Congress of Deputies.

The main current manifestations of this territorial nature are as follows:

  • The appointment of some Senators by the Self-Governing Communities.
  • The existence of a General Committee on Self-Governing Communities, with extensive regional powers, which can be called by the Government Councils of the Self-Governing Communities which, in turn, can take part in its meetings. In the sessions of the aforementioned Committee, in addition to Spanish, the joint official languages of the different Self-Governing Communities may be used.
  • The periodic holding of debates about the State of Self-Governing Communities, involving not only Senators but also the President of the Government, and the heads of Regional Governments in the Self-Governing Communities.
  • The performance of duties pertaining to territorial integration, the most significant of which is outlined in article 155.1 of the Constitution.

Asymmetric Bicameralism

From a bicameral perspective, the Congress of Deputies is clearly dominant in the legislative function, whereas the Senate provides a second reading of proposed legislation. Hence, the Government's bills - more numerous by far - are presented and channelled through the Lower House. The Senate can veto or amend them; however, Congress has the final decision regarding both veto and amendments. The same occurs with the annual State Budget Bill.

Furthermore, although the Senate supervises the Government through questions and appearances, the relationship of trust is created exclusively with the Lower House: it is this latter House that swears in the President of the Government at the start of the Legislature and which can remove the President from power by passing a vote of no confidence or rejecting a vote of confidence. However, the President of the Government can dissolve the Senate, jointly or separately with the Congress of Deputies.