Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 4 4.5 5.5 5.5


This section examines the three minorities of Spain said to be "historic nationalities": the populations of Catalonia (7.7 million), the Basque country (2.2 million) and Galicia (2.7 million) (Instituto Nacional de Estadística 2020). These regions, described as autonomous communities in the Spanish context, are those where minority languages are most widely spoken.




Territorial Autonomy Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 1 1 1 1


  • The adoption of the Spanish Constitution and the passage to democracy in 1978 came with the creation of a highly decentralized state based on autonomous communities.
  • Seventeen autonomous communities were formed from the 50 provinces of Spain. While decentralization is designed for all sub-national units, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, considered to be historic nationalities because they used to possess a special statute before Franco's reign, obtained a greater level of autonomy through a fast and simplified process of devolution (Keating 2001, 114-117).
  • The Statutes of Autonomy for Catalonia and the Basque Country were approved in 1979; for Galicia, the statute was affirmed in 1981. They recognize the legislative, executive and judicial structures of the autonomous communities and give them jurisdiction over education, health, culture and social services, among others.
  • The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country gives the autonomous community the right to raise almost all its own taxes. Catalonia and the Basque Country also have their own autonomous police corps that replaces some of the functions usually carried out by the state police.
  • A vast process of reforming Statutes of Autonomy took place in Spain from 2004 to 2007. A new Statute of Autonomy was adopted by the Catalan Parliament, the Spanish Congress and the population of Catalonia by referendum in 2006, expanding the authority of the autonomous community, particularly with regard to tax collection ( 2010).
  • Statute reforms in Galicia and the Basque Country were not completed. The processes came to an end in the regional parliament and in the national parliament, respectively (Orte and Wilson 2008).
  • The past decade has seen dramatic political changes in Catalonia. In 2010 the Constitutional Tribunal, Spain’s highest court of constitutional interpretation, made four decisions that overturned important aspects of the 2006 Autonomy Statute: “Catalonia could not call itself a ‘nation’ in the legal sense; could not give the Catalan language preferential status in public administration; could not shield already-devolved policy areas from future central-government involvement; could not unilaterally put a cap on what it paid into the central treasury; could not raise its own taxes; could not impose a floor below which central government investments in the region would not be allowed to drop; and could not run its own justice system” (Mueller 2019, 147). These decisions, along with austerity measures introduced by the new Spanish government in 2011, significantly increased support for greater autonomy or independence among Catalonians. On 1 October 2017 the Catalan government held a referendum on independence, which had been ruled illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court. 90% voted in favour of independence, but turnout was only 43% and there was police violence and reports of other voting irregularities. On 10 October the President of the Government of Catalonia declared Catalonia’s independence, but said that the effect of the declaration was suspended and called for negotiations with Spain. On 27 October 2017 the Catalan Parliament approved a resolution declaring Catalonia’s independence from Spain, which was immediately followed by the Spanish government dismissing the Catalan government and imposing direct rule by invoking article 155 of the Spanish Constitution (BBC News 2017). Catalonia’s autonomy was reinstated in June 2018.



Official Language Status Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 1 1 1 1


  • Section 3 of the Spanish Constitution states that Castilian (Spanish) is the official language of the State. Other languages can also be official at a regional level.
  • Six (of the 17) autonomous communities have made a minority language co-official in their region, and another two are committed to the protection of their dialects (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 2004).
  • The Statutes of Autonomy made the Euskera (Basque), Catalan and Galego (Galician) languages co-official in their autonomous communities: the populations of the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia thus have the right to use either Spanish or the regional language. The Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia further states that Catalans have the duty to know the two official languages.
  • The reformed Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 2006 indicated that "Catalan is the language of normal and preferential use" in public administration, media and education. The use of "preferential" was, however, deemed unconstitutional by the Spanish Constitutional Court in 2010 (Helmich 2020).



Guaranteed Representation Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 0.5 0.5 1 1


  • The electoral constituencies for the Spanish Congress are the provinces, which are sub-units of the autonomous communities. Each constituency is allotted a minimum number of representatives, and the remaining seats are distributed in proportion to the population.
  • The Spanish Senate, said to be the house of territorial representation, is constituted in a similar way. However, in addition to 208 senators elected by the voters in the provinces (each province elects four senators), each autonomous community appoints at least one senator and one other for every million inhabitants in their respective territories (Senado de Espana 2021). This special feature of the electoral system shows the importance placed in guaranteeing representation of the communities.
  • As stated in the Spanish constitution, members of the Constitutional Court are nominated by the Congress, the Senate, the government, and the General Council of the Judicial Power (members of this latter body are also nominated by the Congress and the Senate).
  • Catalan and Basque leaders have consistently asked for a more direct role in the appointment of judges to Spain's Constitutional Court (Keating 2001). Since 2006, article 180 of Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy states that the autonomous community participates in the processes for the designation of magistrates of both the Constitutional Court and of the General Council of Judicial Power. However, it is unclear how this has been implemented.
  • Most of the reformed statutes of autonomy now regulate bilateral cooperation between the self-governing community and the state. The Catalonia-State Bilateral Commission was created after adoption of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy as the permanent framework for bilateral relations (Ministerio de política territorial n.d.). The Basque Country had a similar demand, but its statute reform was not completed.



Public Funding Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 1 1 1 1

Evidence (education):

  • The creation of self-governing communities after 1978 led to the transfer of education, in some parts of the country, to the regional governments. As the dictatorship was losing power in the second half of the 1970s, the teaching of minority languages in schools became first a voluntary and later a mandatory subject in elementary and secondary schools (Miley 2006). The teaching of Catalan, Gallego and Euskera (among others) was also included in the terms of the statutes of autonomy of each region (Euskera Act, 1982; Catalan Language Planning Act, 1983; Galician Act, 1983).
  • While the presence of Catalan and Euskera was previously limited to the private network of education, since the 1980s all education is organized in a bilingual format; the instruction of the minority language going from subject to medium according to the autonomous community and the parents' choice (Huguet 2006).
  • The Catalan 1983 Language Planning Act further requires that children be taught primarily in Catalan. The primacy of Catalan as the language of teaching and learning, both for university and non-university education, was also emphasized in regional decrees and in the 2006 Statute of Autonomy. Through the Universities and Research Language Policy Office, the regional government funds projects to foster and drive the Catalan language in universities.
  • Since 2000, there have been attempts by the Spanish government to recentralize some policies including in the field of education (Requejo 2007). However, the public funding of minority-language institutions has not been questioned.

Evidence (media):

  • According to section 149 of the Spanish constitution, the central state has competence over the organ- ization of the press, radio and television. However, the autonomous communities have the opportunity to devise and implement additional broadcast policies (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 2004).
  • Since its creation in 1980, the national public broadcaster is obliged to provide regional television and radio programs. The new Ley de la radio y la television de titularidad estatal (2006) further specifies that part of these programs be broadcast in minority languages. The national public broadcaster has advisory committees in each autonomous community.
  • Where public service broadcasters exist in autonomous communities, most of the programming is in the co-official language. Catalan and Basque television stations broadcasting in the minority language were established in 1983, while a television station in Galego was established in 1985 (ibid.).
  • The regional acts usually require public authorities to fund the production of works in the regional languages. Article 26 of the 1998 Language Policy Act of Catalonia even obliges radio and television concessionaires to respect quotas: 50 percent of the programming must be in Catalan, and for radio sta- tions, 25 percent of the songs broadcast must be in Catalan. The new Act 11/2007 on the creation of the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation further affirms that Catalan is the language to be used in the provision of public broadcasting services.
  • Similarly, Decree 313/1996 of Navarra (one of the provinces constituting the Basque Country) established promotion and protection of the Basque language as a key principle of local television concessionaires.



Affirmation of Multinationalism Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5


  • The Spanish constitution is ambiguous with regard to its acknowledgement of multinationalism, as it affirms both the unity of the Spanish nation and the existence of multiple nationalities. Section 2 states: "The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all."
  • The revision of many statutes of autonomy in the mid-2000s has thus been marked by a normative discussion over whether some regions constitute "nationalities" or "nations" (Orte and Wilson 2008).
  • Both the proposed Basque and the Galician statutes of autonomy increased recognition for their autonomous communities. The Galician Statute mentioned that Galicia ought to be recognized not just as a historical nationality, but also as a nation, while the Basque version proposed political status that included official recognition of a Basque nationality and citizenship. However, neither statutes of autonomy were ratified.
  • The Catalan Statute of Autonomy of 2006 also defines Catalonia as a nation and as a nationality. In this case, however, the statute was adopted by the Spanish parliament. While the Constitutional Court of Spain declared some articles unconstitutional in 2010, it did not remove the term "nation" from the statute, but the court insisted that the term had no legal standing (La Vanguardia 2010).



International Personality Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 0 0.5 1 1


  • The Spanish constitution affirms that the state holds exclusive competence over international relations and the signing of political treaties. However, the legal restrictions that prevented Spanish autonomous communities from acting abroad were relaxed in a Constitutional Court ruling in 1996 (Keating 2000).
  • Moreover, devolution of some powers to autonomous communities has meant that external activities in areas such as economic development, education or tourism can be carried out by the minority communities.
  • The 2006 Catalan Statute of Autonomy recognizes Catalonia's right to conduct foreign relations in the areas corresponding to its powers, and Catalonia now has a Ministry of Foreign Action.
  • Since the 2000s, Catalan delegations have opened in fourteen countries as well as at the European Union, and collaborates in various ways with a range of international agencies and organizations including the United Nations and the Council of Europe (Ministry of Foreign Action 2019)
  • Similarly, the Basque Country has started to take a more political international role following the relaxing of the restrictions on international involvement, and has established relationships with a variety of international actors (Lehendakaritza 2016).
  • Representatives of the Basque government, the regional government of Catalonia and the autonomous community of Galicia are members of the EU Committee of the Regions (Committee of the Regions n.d.).