Economic development and territorial organisation — two essential requirements to ensure the social development and welfare of citizens in any country — call for a swift, modern and well-structured communication system. Spain in particular, with 45 million residents and an influx of foreign tourists now exceeding 60 million a year, has experienced a remarkable increase in internal traffic in very diverse means of transport. The need for improved internal mobility within the Spanish territory has been met over the past two decades by means of substantial investment in the improvement and development of transport infrastructures. A highly noteworthy development since 1992 is the construction of the national high-speed railway network, together with significant spending on air and road transport infrastructures, essentially involving, in the latter case, private-sector funding of toll motorways. As a result of all this, Spain’s communication network is among the most extensive, most modern, fastest and safest in the world.
Undoubtedly, the type of infrastructure that is playing the leading role in the current decade is the High Speed Railway System (AVE). This veritable revolution in Spain’s communications started with the Madrid-Sevilla AVE railway link in 1992. This initial effort was later to be followed by the Madrid-Barcelona-Junquera (France) line, of which the Madrid-Barcelona section is already in operation; and the recently opened Madrid-Malaga line. New line openings planned for the next few years include the Madrid-North Coast, Madrid-East Coast, Madrid-Atlantic Coast, and Madrid-Lisbon links. Once all these lines are in operation, it will be possible to travel by train between any two major cities in the Iberian Peninsula in under four hours (Madrid-Barcelona in two and a half hours). On this 2,500 kilometre railway network, trains will run at an average speed of 275 km/h, reaching peak speeds of up to 350 km/h.
Air transport — both domestic and international — is an equally important priority in a country as large as Spain, with a surface area of more than 500.000 square kilometres. In particular, the country’s two archipelagos, which attract large numbers of visitors, largely rely on air travel for communication purposes. Moreover, Spain has a sizeable influx of foreign tourisms. Hence, several Spanish airports, including Barajas in Madrid, el Prat in Barcelona, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca and Manises in Valencia, are among the busiest in Europe. Overall, Spain’s air network is made up by 41 airports.
Four major companies — Iberia, Spanair, Air Europa, and Clic Air-Vueling — fully meet the communication needs between the country’s 20 largest cities, as well as with the main cities in Europe and the Americas (especially Iberia on the international front). Air travel is relatively cheap in Spain, although the surge in oil prices is making air fares considerably more expensive.
As regards road transport, the approach followed by the Spanish government has been based on the construction of toll-free dual carriageways interconnecting all the regions of Spain. These projects were undertaken in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a result, most road links between provincial and autonomous community capitals now consist of dual carriageways. However, although these have led to a notable improvement and extension of the country’s transport grid, they have attracted strong criticism from numerous politicians and experts — this kind of roads is considered dangerous, since in many cases they are mere extensions of single-lane roads and have not been specifically planned and designed for fast traffic. The safety and quality criteria implemented in dual carriageway projects are far below the stringent standards applied to the construction of motorways.
Upon completion of this close-knit network of inter-provincial dual carriageways, subsequent infrastructure projects have been based on a different kind of road, with a view to developing a safer and higher-quality road grid. Hence, recent spending on inter-provincial road links has essentially focused on motorways. Spain’s north and northwest regions were the first to have motorways in the strict sense of the term. To pay for the enormous construction costs, it was decided to implement a toll system in conjunction with private infrastructure companies. Subsequently, motorway construction has become widespread throughout the entire Spanish territory.
Spain currently has 27 toll motorways in operation, totalling more than 3,300 kilometres: AP-1 Motorway, Burgos - Armiñón, AP-2 Motorway, Zaragoza - Mediterráneo, AP-36 Motorway, Ocaña - La Roda, AP-4 Motorway, Sevilla - Cadiz, AP-41 Motorway, Madrid - Toledo, AP-51 Motorway, linking the AP-6, and Avila, AP-6 Motorway, Villalba - Villacastín - Adanero, AP-61 Motorway, linking AP-6, and Segovia, AP-68 Motorway, Bilbao - Zaragoza, AP-7 Motorway, Alicante - Cartagena, AP-7 Motorway, Barcelona - Tarragona, AP-7 Motorway, Estepona - Guadiario, AP-7 Motorway, Málaga - Estepona, AP-7 Motorway, Montmeló - La Jonquera, AP-7 Motorway, Tarragona - Valencia, AP-7 Motorway, Valencia - Alicante, AP-71 Motorway, León - Astorga, AP-9 Motorway, Ferrol – Portuguese border, Cartagena – Vera Motorway , Alicante Beltway, M-12 Madrid Airport Link Motorway, , R-2 Motorway, M-40 - Guadalajara. Section outside the M-50 (M-50 - Guadalajara), R-3 Motorway, Madrid - Arganda del Rey, R-4 Motorway, Madrid - Ocaña, R-5 Motorway, Madrid - Navalcarnero. The motorway to Barajas Airport Terminal 4 has the highest toll rate per kilometre in Spain: it costs 1.60 for little more than one kilometre. The R-5 between Madrid and Navalcarnero has the highest rate for cars at 1.3934 euros per kilometre (2007 prices). The AP-66 motorway link between Campomanes and León charges between 19 and 22 cents per kilometre depending on vehicle volume. Next comes the Pontevedra -Vigo motorway, at 17.5 to 19.8 cents per kilometre. The AP-7 between Málaga and Estepona and the AP-41 joining Madrid and Toledo charge 14 euro cents per kilometre. At the other end of the scale, the cheapest motorway is the AP-4 between Sevilla and Cadiz, at 6 euro cents per kilometre.
Spain is considered to have a mild climate and plenty of sunshine, (some call it the “European California”). Undoubtedly, when compared with most European countries, it has many days of sunshine a year. However, owing to significant variations in terrain, the weather conditions change considerably between different autonomous communities or geographic regions. One of these climate zones, covering the autonomous communities of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country, is characterised by intense, regular rainfall, mild summers and quite cold winters. Further south, beyond this coastal fringe, we find ourselves in a continental climate zone. The capital city of Madrid is a good example, as are the cities of Salamanca or Valladolid on the northern plateau, where summer temperatures rise above 30ºC and winters are harsh, dry and cold (although not so much any longer). A further climate zone, comprising the coastal regions of Andalucía and Levante (east coast), has mild winters and hot, moist summers. The Canary Islands have distinctive climate conditions, essentially as a result of their geographic location, very close to the tropic. This archipelago enjoys very mild temperatures all year round, seldom exceeding 30ºC.
This variety of climates is also accompanied by a diversity of ecosystems, ranging from beech, birch or chestnut forests typical of Atlantic climates with very high rainfall rates; through pine or evergreen oak woods characteristic of Mediterranean climates; to desert landscapes like those found in the provinces of Almería and Zaragoza.
Spain is a parliamentary monarchy. The legislative power is vested in Parliament (the Cortes), consisting of two chambers: the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. Members of Parliament are elected every four years by all Spanish citizens who have reached the age of 18. Spain has a Prime Minister, also elected as a result of the same electoral process, in this case by a vote among the deputies of Congress. Above the Prime Minister is the Head of State — the King of Spain. However, the king does not play any role in government matters. Spain is a fully democratic country.
But also, pursuant to the Constitution approved in 1978, Spain has become what is known as a State of Autonomies. The Spanish state is made up by 17 Autonomous Communities, each with their own parliament and President, both of which are elected every four years. The Autonomous Communities have many devolved powers, i.e., the individual Autonomous governments have full decision-making and management power over numerous public matters. This leads to marked differences among regions as regards education, culture or health. It can therefore be said that decentralisation constitutes a distinctive trait of our political system.