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Through exploration and conquest, Spain became a world power in the 16th century, and it maintained a vast overseas empire until the early 19th century.
Spain’s modern history is marked by the bitterly fought Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, and the ensuing 36-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain made the transition to a democratic state and built a successful economy, with King Juan Carlos as head of state.
The constitution of 1978 enshrines respect for linguistic and cultural diversity within a united Spain. The country is divided into 17 regions which all have their own directly elected authorities. The level of autonomy afforded to each region is far from uniform. For example, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia have special status with their own language and other rights.
Andalucia, Navarre, Valencia and the Canaries, in turn, have more extensive powers than some other regions. Asturias and Aragon have taken steps to consolidate language rights.
In 2006 a Catalan referendum backed by the central government gave the region greater autonomy.
The Catalans won nation status within Spain and the region’s parliament gained extra powers in taxation and judicial matters. The country’s regional picture is a complex and evolving one.
One of Spain’s most serious domestic issues has been tension in the northern Basque region. A violent campaign by the Basque separatist group ETA has led to nearly 850 deaths over the past four decades.
Eta declared a ceasefire in March 2006 saying it wished to see the start of a democratic process for the Basque region. The move divided opinion in Spain.
Tentative moves to negotiate a lasting peace were dealt a blow when Eta carried out a deadly bomb attack at Madrid’s international airport at the end of the year. In June 2007, Eta called off its ceasefire.
The group announced another ceasefire in September 2010, but this time, the government said it was not prepared to enter into negotiations unless Eta renounced violence for good.
Until 2008, the Spanish economy was regarded as one of the most dynamic within the EU. However, the mainstays of the economy were tourism and a booming housing market and construction industry, and so the global economic crisis of 2008-9 hit the country hard.
Spain was tipped into a severe recession and by mid-2010 unemployment had climbed to over 20% – double the EU average. Austerity measures imposed by the government in an effort to reduce the level of public debt sparked a wave of protests.
Spain shares the Iberian peninsula with Portugal and its territory includes the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and two North African enclaves.
From Velazquez in the seventeenth century, through Goya straddling the eighteenth and nineteenth, to Picasso in the twentieth, Spain has the proudest of traditions in art.
Flamenco music and dance are widely admired around the world while Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote is one of the most popular ever written.
Cinema is much loved and the films of directors such as Pedro Almodovar attract huge audiences.
Full name: Kingdom of Spain
Population: 46.7 million (UN 2010)
Area: 505,988 sq km (195,363 sq miles)
Major languages: Spanish (Castilian), Catalan
and its variant Valencian, Gallego (Galician), Euskera (Basque)
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 79 years (men), 85 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 euro = 100 cents
Main exports: Transport equipment, agricultural products
GNI per capita: US $31,870 (World Bank, 2009)
Internet domain: .es
International dialing code: +34
Head of state: King Felipe VI
King Felipe succeeded to the throne on the abdication of his father Juan Carlos in June 2014.
Born in 1968 when his father was heir-apparent to the vacant throne during the Franco dictatorship, Prince Felipe was educated for his future royal role and undertook official engagements on behalf of the king from 1995.
Despite retaining considerable constitutional power as chief executive and commander-in-chief, King Felipe has pledged to continue his father’s legacy of supporting the primacy of parliament.
Prime Minister: Pedro Sánchez
Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez took over as prime minister in June 2018, after his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy lost a parliamentary vote of confidence.
This was triggered by a long-running corruption trial involving members of Mr Rajoy’s Popular Party.
Snap elections in April and November 2019 boosted the Socialists, but they fell short of a majority, while Vox became the first far-right party to win seats since the death of Francisco Franco in 1975.
Public broadcaster RTVE shares the market with major commercial operators. Regional TV networks are operated by their respective governments.
Freedom House NGO raises concerns about the concentration of media ownership and what it says is political interference in public media.
There are more than 40 million internet users. Facebook is the leading social platform.
El Mundo – Madrid-based daily
El Pais – Madrid-based daily
ABC – Madrid-based daily
La Razon – Madrid-based daily
La Vanguardia – Barcelona-based daily
El Periodico de Catalunya – Barcelona-based daily
TVE – public, services include national networks La Primera and La 2, satellite-delivered TVE Internacional, rolling news channel 24 Horas
Tele Cinco – national, commercial
Antena 3 – national, commercial
Cuatro – national, commercial, formerly Canal+ Espana
RNE – public, services include speech network Radio 1, cultural network Radio Clasica, youth-oriented Radio 3, news station Radio 5 Todo Noticias
Cadena SER – commercial, operates more than 50 national, regional stations
Onda Cero – commercial
Cadena COPE – church-controlled
Punto Radio – commercial
EFE – government-owned
Europa Press – private
Colpisa – private