VIVA ESPAÑA: Spanish Citizenship – Things You Should Know Part 1

When the United Kingdom finally withdrew from the European Union on January 31st 2020, UK citizens living abroad, such as Spain, lost a number of rights that they had enjoyed prior to Brexit. Although the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement guarantees UK citizens who were lawfully resident in EU member states before the end of the transition period on December 31st 2020 broadly the same rights as they had as an EU citizen, such as voting in local elections, the withdrawal has pushed the UK into the status of ‘third country’ which has an important impact of those looking for work in the EU, since job offers tend to prioritize native citizens and then EU citizens.

For those who have determined that their future lies within the country in which they have made their home, there is the option to apply for citizenship of that country and effectively retain those rights, including, the right to work, the freedom of movement within the EU and being able to vote in national elections and have a voice in the running of the country where you live on a permanent basis.

In Spain, you can apply for Spanish citizenship after ten years’ of legal residency in the country through naturalisation. However, this requires taking two tests – the DELE A2 Spanish language test and the CCSE cultural test.

The language test is self-explanatory – the applicant has to prove that they have a level of the Spanish language of at least A2 level. This is a second rung on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) and could be interpreted as a “pre-intermediate” level in which you are able speak about your past experiences, what you have done in your life and how your life used to be in different stages.

The Conocimientos Constitucionales y Socioculturales de España (CCSE) is a test to determine your knowledge of the Spanish Constitution and how much you know about Spanish culture, history, and society. It is a PASS or FAIL test in which you must answer 25 questions – in multiple-choice format – about Spanish Government, Law, and Citizenship (60% of the test) and about Spanish Culture, History, and Society (40%).

The Cervantes Institute provides a manual (in Spanish) to prepare for the CCSE test and we have used this document to create a special feature which we think might be of interest to people, regardless of whether or not they intend to apply for citizenship in Spain.

The manual is split into five parts and we will deal with each part in an individual manner.

Part 1 – Government, Legislation and Citizen Participation.
Part 2 – Fundamental Rights and Duties.
Part 3 – Territorial Organization of Spain. Geographical, Physical and Political.
Part 4 – Culture and History of Spain.
Part 5 – Spanish Society.

First up is Government, Legislation and Citizen Participation. We have highlighted certain information just as the Cervantes Institute has done which indicates that it is important to know. We have also kept a lot of organizations, government departments and other references in Spanish since the CCSE test will be taken in that language but have provided a translation where appropriate.

Part 1 – Government, Legislation and Citizen Participation

Powers of State, Government and Institutions

The Constitución Española (Spanish Constitution) was approved in a referendum by the Spanish people on December 6th 1978. The date is now a national public holiday across Spain.

The four principles of the Spanish Constitution are:

  • Respect for human rights and laws.
  • Protection of the differences of the people of Spain.
  • Development of a social and economic system for a decent life.
  • Collaboration and cooperation amongst all the people of the Earth.

The Tribunal Constitucional interprets the Spanish Constitution and is independent of the powers of the State.

The Reino de España (Kingdom of Spain) is a social democratic state and a monarquía parlamentaria (parliamentary monarchy).

Although Spain is a common and indivisible homeland, the Spanish Constitution recognizes and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions that comprise it and the solidarity between all of them.

The Spanish Flag has three horizontal stripes (red · yellow · red) whilst each autonomous community has its own flag and must use it together with the Spanish flag on its public buildings and in its official acts.

The Spanish Constitution confirms that Castilian is the official language of Spain and that all Spaniards have the right to use it and the duty to know it. In addition to Castilian or Spanish, other official languages are spoken in the following autonomous communities: Galicia (gallego), Navarra and the Basque Country (vasco or euskera), Catalonia (catalán and aranés), the Balearic Islands (catalán), the Valencian Community (catalán or valenciano).

  • The Real Academia Española (RAE) and Instituto Cervantes regulate the Castilian or Spanish language.
  • The Institut d’Estudis Catalans, Institut Ramon Llull and Institut d’Estudis Baleàrics regulate the Catalan language.
  • The Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua and the Direcció General de Política Lingüistica i Gestió del Multilingüisme regulate the Valencian language.
  • The Real Academia Galega and Secretaría Xeral de Política Lingüística regulate the Galician language.
  • The Real Academía de la Lengua Vasca-Euskaltzaindia, the Instituto Vasco Exxepare and the Instituto Navarro del Vascuence-Euskarabidea regulate the Basque languages.

Since the 16th century, the capital of Spain has been Madrid. Before that time, it was Valladolid and Toledo.

The Rey de España (King of Spain) is the head of state and and the Corona (Crown) is the symbol of the unity of Spain. He has the highest representation of the State and moderates the functioning of the institutions. In addition, among other functions, he sanctions and promulgates the laws, appoints the members of the Government, at the proposal of his president, and has the supreme command of the Armed Forces of Spain.

In Spain, both men and women are permitted to reign. The Crown of Spain is hereditary, and the heir to the Crown has the title of Prince or Princess of Asturias. The king has his official residence in the Palacio Real, but he lives in the Palacio de la Zarzuela.

Juan Carlos I was King of Spain from November 22nd 1975, until June 19th 2014. With his reign, democracy was restored in Spain and the country joined the European Union. In June 2014, his son Felipe VI was proclaimed king.

Representation of Spain in International Organizations

Spain joined the Comunidad Económica Europea (European Economic Community) (today the Unión Europea (European Union)) on January 1st 1986. Spain has held the Presidency four times on a six-monthly basis of the Council of the European Union: in 1989, 1995, 2002 and 2010.

Due to its membership in the EU, Spain has reformed the Spanish Constitution twice, in 1992 and in 2011, to adapt its legislation to European decisions and directives.

Spain is also part of the following international organizations:

  • United Nations (ONU)
  • Council of Europe (CE)
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization (OTAN)
  • Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCDE)
  • Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

A special place in Spain’s international relations is occupied by the Ibero-American community, which is made up of the 19 Spanish and Portuguese-speaking states of Latin America, and the three of the Iberian Peninsula: Spain, Portugal and Andorra. The international organization that supports these 22 countries is the Ibero-American General Secretariat (Secretaría General Iberoamericana).

Executive Power

The Gobierno (Government) directs the domestic and foreign policy of Spain, the civil and military administration, and the defence of the state. It is the highest body of the executive power.

The Gobierno consists of a president, one or more vice-presidents and ministers. The President of the Government has his official residence in the Palacio de la Moncloa in Madrid. The members of the Government swear or promise their position before a copy of the Spanish Constitution in the presence of the king.

Legistative Power

The Cortes Generales (the official name of the Spanish Parliament) represent the Spanish people and are made up of two chambers: the Congreso de los Diputados and the Senado. The main functions of the Cortes Generales are to prepare and approve the laws and the General State Budgets and control the action of the Spanish Government.

The president of the Congreso de los Diputados is the third authority of the Spanish State. It can have between 300 and 400 members but is currently made up of 350 diputados.

The Senado is the chamber of territorial representation of Spain. It can also vary in the number of senators that compose it; it is currently composed of 263 senadores. A maximum of four senators correspond to each province. Ceuta and Melilla only elect two senators each. The other senators are elected by the autonomous parliaments.


There are three different types of laws:

  • Ley Orgánica – regulates issues such as fundamental rights or statutes of autonomy.
  • Ley Ordinaria
  • Decreto Ley – issued by the Spanish Government in cases of special urgency.

Before a law is approved, and depending on who proposes it, we speak of a proyecto de ley (bill) when proposed by the Government, or a proposición de ley (motion) if it is proposed by the Congreso, the Senado, an autonomous community or a minimum of 500,000 citizens.

Judicial Power

Judicial power in Spain is made up of judges and magistrates and has the function of administering justice, which comes from the people.

The Consejo General del Poder Judicial (CGPJ) is the governing body of the judges (made up of judges and other jurists) that exercises government functions of the judiciary. It is an autonomous body and serves to guarantee the independence of judges and courts in the exercise of their functions.


The Spanish Constitution guarantees the religious freedom of individuals and communities, and in this sense, the Spanish State is non-denominational and does not recognize any religion as official, although there is a strong Catholic tradition.

The Armed Forces and Security Bodies

The Fuerzas Armadas (el Ejército del Aire, el Ejército de Tierra and la Armada) have the mission of guaranteeing the sovereignty and independence of Spain and defending the integrity of its territory, in addition to constitutional order. Its highest authority is the king, although the command corresponds to the Ministry of Defence.

The Fuerzas y Cuerpos de Seguridad have the function of protecting the free exercise of rights and freedoms and guaranteeing citizen security.

  • NationwideCuerpo Nacional de Policía and the Guardia Civil. The highest command corresponds to the Minister of the Interior. Among the functions of the Policía Nacional is the issue of the national identity document and the passport, the control of entry and exit of the national territory of Spaniards and foreigners, the investigation and prosecution of crimes, etc. The Guardia Civil ensures compliance with the laws, assists and protects people and ensure the conservation and custody of goods that are in a situation of danger for any reason, in addition to monitoring traffic on national public roads, in ports, airports, borders and coasts.
  • Autonomous CommunitiesErtzaintza in the Basque Country, Mossos d’Esquadra in atalonia, Policía Foral de Navarra, Cuerpo General de la Policía de Canarias.
  • Local LevelPolicía Local, who provide protection of local authorities, the regulation of traffic in the urban area, provision and assistance in the event of an accident, etc.

Spanish Organizations

There are advisory bodies to the Spanish Government, known as the Consejo de Estado and the Consejo Económico y Social.

Other organizations that belong to the ministries in Spain are:

  • the Agencia Española de Meteorología (AEMET) – the state meteorological agency which provides official weather forecasts and severe weather warnings.
  • the Agencia Tributaria (AEAT) – the Spanish Tax Agency which is the revenue service of Spain, responsible for the effective application of national tax, etc.
  • the Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) – responsible for the government’s road policy in Spain.
  • the Instituto de Comercio Exterior de España (ICEX) – the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade which is responsible for promoting Spanish companies on the international stage to add value to the Spanish economy as well as boost foreign investment in Spain.
  • the Instituto Cervantes – the Cervantes Institute which is a non-profit organization created by the Spanish Government to promote the study and the teaching of Spanish language and culture.
  • the Instituto de la Mujer y para la Igualdad de Oportunidades – responsible for the promotion of conditions to facilitate social equality between the sexes and the participation of women in political, cultural, economic and social life.
  • the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) – the National Statistics Institute which collects information about demography, economy, and Spanish society. It carries out a national census every ten years.
  • Patrimonio Nacional – the equivalent of National Heritage in the UK, it is reponsible for the administration of the sites owned by the Spanish State and used by the Monarch and the Spanish Royal Family as residences and for State Ceremonies.
  • Turespaña – the Spanish Tourism Institute responsible for promoting Spain internationally as a tourist destination through a network of tourism offices (Oficinas Españolas de Turismo) linked to Spain’s embassies and consulates around the world.

The Government and the autonomous communities have different means to communicate with citizens:

  • The Boletín Oficial del Estado (BOE) and the different bulletins of the autonomous communities report on laws, decrees, appointments, etc.
  • The different state administrations have face-to-face, telephone and electronic assistance systems, such as telephone 060, the Portal de Administración Electrónica (PAe) in which the citizen can find all the information on news and initiatives of the administration, etc.

Defensor del Pueblo

The Defensor del Pueblo (ombudsman) is responsible for defending the fundamental rights and public freedoms of citizens by supervising the activity of the public administrations. It is elected by the Congreso de los Diputados and the Senado and has a five year mandate. It does not receive orders or instructions from any authority. Any citizen can go to the Defensor del Pueblo and request its intervention, free of charge, to investigate any allegedly irregular action by the Spanish Public Administration or its agents. It will give an account of its management to the Cortes Generales in an annual report and can present individual reports on matters that he considers serious, urgent or that require special attention.

Tax Agency (Agencia Tributaria) and Court of Auditors (Tribunal de Cuentas)

  • The Agencia Tributaria oversees tax collection and the application of the tax system in general, to contribute to sustaining public spending.
  • The Tribunal de Cuentas is the body that controls the financial management of the State as well as the accounting of political parties.

Territorial and Administrative Organization

The 1978 Spanish Constitution establishes that Spain will be organized into autonomous communities, provinces and municipalities.

There are three levels of organization of the Administration: central, regional and local (in which the provinces and municipalities are included(.

At each of the levels, the government entities have autonomy to manage their respective interests, in accordance with the law.

The State has exclusive jurisdiction over matters such as nationality, aliens, immigration, international relations, and the administration of justice.

Autonomous Communities

There are 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities in Spain. The basis for their formation were the common historical, cultural and economic characteristics of neighbouring provinces.

The administration levels of the autonomous communities are:

  • the asamblea legislativa (legislative assembly), elected by universal suffrage among the region’s residents
  • the consejo de gobierno (governing council) which has executive functions over the powers transferred
  • the president, who, in addition to his executive function, represents the autonomous community.

The representative of the State in an autonomous community is the delegado of the Government.


There are 50 provinces in Spain.

They are administered by the diputaciones (councils), although in the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands the equivalents are the Cabildo and Consejo Insular, respectively, which govern the islands.

The members of the diputaciones are chosen by the representatives of the town councils, except in the case of the Basque Country, where the representatives are chosen through direct elections, due to historical reasons. The single province autonomous communities do not have diputaciones.


There are 8,122 municipalities in Spain.

The governing body is the ayuntamiento, made up of a mayor and councillors, who oversee managing the public services of the city or town and who are elected by the residents of the town in municipal elections.

Among the powers of the municipalities are the protection of its historical heritage, environment, urban planning, water supply and lighting, cultural and sports activities and facilities, etc.


Spain is the fourth most populous country in the European Union (behind Germany, France and Italy), with a population in 2018 of nearly 47 million inhabitants.

It is the second largest country in the EU, with an area of 505,944 km² and a density of 91.8 inhabitants/km².

The ten cities in Spain with the largest population are (in order): Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, Malaga, Murcia, Palma de Mallorca, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Bilbao.

Population by Autonomous Communities and Cities (01/01/2021)

  • Andalucía – 8,464,411
  • Aragón – 1,329,391
  • Asturias, Principado de – 1,018,784
  • Baleares, Islas – 1,171,543
  • Canarias – 2,175,952
  • Cantabria – 582,905
  • Castilla y León – 2,394,918
  • Castilla La Mancha – 2,045,221
  • Cataluña – 7,780,479
  • Ceuta – 84,202
  • Extremadura – 1,063,987
  • Galicia – 2,701,819
  • Madrid – 6,779,888
  • Melilla – 87,076
  • Murcia – 1,511,251
  • Navarra – 661,197
  • País Vasco – 2,220,504
  • Rioja, La – 319,914
  • Valencia – 5,057,353

Citizen Participation

The Spanish Constitution includes references to associations such as political parties (article 6), trade unions (articles 7 and 28), religious denominations (article 16), consumer and user associations (article 51) and professional organizations (article 52). In a general way, it defines the principles common to all associations (article 22).

The Spanish Constitution establishes that the basis of the political system is the right to vote for all Spaniards through universal, free, equal, direct and secret suffrage, eligible voters are all Spaniards over 18 years of age who are in full use of their political rights. The positions of president and members of the electoral tables are mandatory. Residents of the European Union and countries with which Spain has signed agreements are also allowed to vote in local elections.

The Spanish Constitution states that elections are called by the king. In Spain they are convened every four years and can be:

  • General Elections – to elect deputies and senators to Congreso de los Diputados and the Senado, respectively;
  • Autonomous Elections – to elect the members of the autonomous assemblies;
  • Local Elections to elect the representatives of local bodies, diputaciones and ayuntamientos.

Spain has a multi-party system, both nationally and regionally and locally. All Spaniards of legal age can exercise their right to vote in elections.

Since the Spanish Constitution in 1978 until 2021, there have been 14 legislatures and 7 Prime Ministers, belonging to three parties:

  • 1979-1981 Adolfo Suárez – Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD)
  • 1981-1982 Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo – Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD)
  • 1982-1996 Felipe González- Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE)
  • 1996-2004 José Maria Aznar – Partido Popular (PP)
  • 2004-2011 José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero – Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE)
  • 2011-2018 Mariano Rajoy – Partido Popular (PP)
  • 2018-2022 Pedro Sánchez – Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE)

The Spanish Constitution also recognizes the right of association and the existence of trade unions, as organizations that defend the interests of workers. It is considered that the first trade union in Spain was the Asociación de Tejedores de Barcelona (Association of Weavers of Barcelona) which was ​​established in 1840.

Unions in Spain are of great importance. The most representative participate both in negotiations with companies and governments as well as in the economic consultative body of the Government, the Economic and Social Council.

Article 22 of the Spanish Constitution recognizes the derecho de asociación (right of association) in which ir defines the principles common to all associations, such as, for example, that they have to enrol in a register. The Registro Nacional de Asociaciones (National Registry of Associations) includes more than 60,000, of which nearly 800 are youth and more than 150 foreign.

The Spanish Constitution also includes references to associations such as political parties (article 6), trade unions – organizations that defend and promote the interests of workers (articles 7 and 28), religious denominations (article 16), consumer associations and users (article 51) and professional organizations (article 52).

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