Trains, planes and bins: how Almeria works 

In Spain, as in the UK for that matter, government and bureaucracy can often seem very confusing. 

For expats in Almeria, it might be just a little bit harder to figure out who exactly has responsibility for the bins, the roads or the hospitals, given the often stark language barrier. 

Unlike the UK, Spain has a constitution which sets out the responsibilities of every level of government. The Spanish Government, El Gobierno de Espana, lead by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has exclusive competencies over things like defence, foreign policy as well as immigration. 

Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities of which Andalusia is the most populated and the second largest. The powers of the Comunidad Autónomais are asymmetrical, some have more powers than others, and all of them have an established regional identity. 

As a general rule, community powers extend to all matters not allocated to the state by the constitution. Principal competencies include regional transportation, health and education. They also have individual legislative processes and implement state legislation, while the judiciary of Spain remains supreme. 

Communities are split into provinces, of which Spain has 50 and Andalusia eight. The Diputación Provincial collectively represent municipalities, foster cooperation in the promotion of economic and social development and provide public services of a supra-municipal character. Provinces are largely more relevant as electoral districts for national elections and as geographical references like postal addresses and phone codes compared to the communities. 

Some divisions in communities also band together into comarcas to achieve common objectives, albeit with its not a formal tier of government.

On a day-to-day basis, it’s actually municipalities which control most of what expats will be affected by. Almeria has 102, and whether from public safety, the protection of public health, the management of healthcare and tourism, the Ayuntamiento, or local council, are most residents initial encounter with the Spanish state. 

More specifically, becoming a Spanish citizen, getting resident cards, your NIE or anything to do with employment fall under the purview of the Spanish Government.

There will always be areas of overlap and confusion is not rare. Issues of contention between central and regional government are settled by the Constitutional Court, Tribunal Constitucional de España.

Spain is not a federation, but is extremely decentralised and comparable to devolution between Westminster, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

As a great man once said, “bureaucracy is the only constant in the universe.”

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Alastair Stewart 276 Articles

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer, journalist, and teacher based in Edinburgh and Almería. He regularly writes about politics, history, and culture for magazines across Europe.

He was formerly a press officer at the Scottish Parliament. He graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in International Relations.

Alastair founded DARROW in 2013 to support new and emerging writing talent in Scotland around the world.

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