council of ministers


council of ministers
   This equivalent of the British cabinet first came into being in 1714. It is the highest political and executive body in the country. Normally it consists of the prime minister, the deputy prime minister(s) and the ministers. Meetings of the council are usually chaired by the prime minister, unless the king is present or unless the premier is ill or absent abroad, in which case his or her place is taken by a deputy. The council normally meets once a week on Fridays in ordinary session but extraordinary meetings can be called at any time should the political situation demand it. Article 97 of the constitution of 1978, equating government with the cabinet, affirms that "the government directs internal and foreign policy, the civil and military administration and the defence of the state. It exercises the executive function and rule-making powers…" It has both a political and an administrative role. In the latter capacity, it controls the activity of all branches of the civil service.
   While the council of ministers enjoys certain legislative, judicial and defence powers, its main responsibilities are of an executive nature. Here its major function is to formulate and approve national policy over the whole area represented by the various ministries. It takes the initiative in preparing draft laws which are normally drawn up in particular departments before being approved by the cabinet and then submitted for approval to parliament. Another important power relates to appointments of high-ranking officials: these include ambassadors, under-secretaries of state, civil governors, government delegates to the autonomous communities and captains-general of the army. In addition, the cabinet is required to establish government standing and ad hoc committees. It also has the right to call regional and local (though not general) elections every four years.
   Article 97 makes it clear that the government, through the council of ministers, is responsible for the control of military affairs and for the defence of the state. Article 104 also assigns to the cabinet responsibility for the security and policing of the country.
   The council enjoys a number of rights relating to the autonomous communities. For example, it has the right to oblige them to carry out their functions according to the constitution and to bring a regional authority before the Constitutional Tribunal if it is adopting legislation which contravenes the constitution. Since the first post-Franco cabinet was established in 1977, all councils of ministers have consisted predominantly of the members of one (ie. the ruling) party, although several cabinets have contained a few independents and technocrats with no obvious party affiliation.
   See also: armed forces; González, Felipe; Juan Carlos I; politics; Suárez, Adolfo
   Further reading
   - Heywood, P. (1991) "Governing a New Democracy: the Powers of the Prime Minister in Spain", West European Politics 14: 97–115.
   - Newton, M.T. with Donaghy, P.J. (1997) Institutions of Modern Spain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (chapter 5.5 deals in detail with the council of ministers).
   MICHAEL T. NEWTON

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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