The provincial councils arose in the early 19th century, as the result of three major forces: the crisis in the old political system; the lack of human resources and materials occasioned by the War of Independence; and the promulgation of the ‘Law of laws’: the 1812 Constitution of Cádiz. All these circumstances arose against an era marked by the proliferation of new, liberal ideas which opposed the outdated, anachronistic values of the old regime.
The provincial councils originated from the first political constitution adopted by the Spanish monarchy, approved on 19th March, 1812: this was Spain’s first Magna Carta – a law considered emblematic of the ideals of liberalism and Spanish constitutionalism. Article 323 of the new Constitution of Cádiz granted councils the power to not only promote their respective towns and villages, but also to act as intermediate political bodies, between the central political power and the different municipalities (see also Article 325): “Each province will have one council, called a provincial council, which will promote the prosperity of its province and be presided over by its own head of affairs”. Article 335, meanwhile, granted a series of powers to the councils which would enable them to promote the province and its economic prosperity.
The different provincial councils were not established simultaneously in all provinces; the process was rather erratic, as much with respect to the activities they carried out as to their respective geographical jurisdictions. In fact, a royal decree of 15th June, 1814 went so far as to abolish their existence altogether. Likewise, the return of King Ferdinand VII led to the abolishment of the Constitution, the establishment of absolutism in Spain for a six-year period (1814 to 1820) and the rise of the Royal Counsel. The King decreed: “I believe that my kingdoms can be governed in a better way by the Royal Counsel, which used to be in charge of business and promotion, and whose functions were undertaken, during my absence, by the provincial councils owing to changes made to the system… I hereby abolish these councils, since I believe them to be unnecessary”.
The councils were abolished until the rebellion of 1820, when the troops were due to head for America to put a stop to the process of emancipation, and the King was obliged to swear by the 1812 Constitution. A Decree of 7th March restored the Constitution’s validity and the provincial councils once again came into being for a ‘three-year Constitutional period” (1820 to 1823). A decree of 27th January,1822 also saw a new distribution of the territory. Nevertheless, the provincial councils enjoyed a short lifespan, since they were once again abolished in 1823 by the intervention of the French army (know as “the One Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis”), which restored Ferdinand VII’s absolutist regime for a 10-year period known as “the Ominous Decade, 1823-1833”.
After the King’s death on 29th September, 1833, his widow, Marie Christine was named Governor and Regent during the minority of her daughter, Elizabeth II. This period was known as “the Elizabethan Restoration”, an era which laid the groundwork for the new Constitution and the Royal Statute of 1834. The era also consolidated the power of the liberals, leading to the definitive re-establishment of the provincial councils. Likewise, the Decree of 30th November, 1833 divided Spain territorially into 49 provinces. This division (with the exception of a few modifications) still stands today. Not only does it govern administrative matters; it also determines military, judicial and tax demarcations. Finally, on 21st September, 1835, the Royal Decree concerning “the Manner of Constituting and Forming Councils” was promulgated. In order to reflect the Council’s work, the Royal Order of 20th April,1833 called for the publication of Official Provincial Bulletins in capital cities; these bulletins would serve as official gazettes and a means through which the people and institutions could communicate. Málaga’s first bulletin was published on Wednesday, 17th July, 1833, at a printer located on number 31 Granada Street.
As far as the Council’s powers and competencies are concerned, between 1812 and 1845, its managers carried out the functions of government, administration (of assets, resources and services) and taxation (economic and financial management). From its origins until the year 1863, Councils were made up of a Political Head/Superior, an Intendant and the Council Deputies. From 1863 onwards, Councils comprised the Governor and Deputies (who functioned as a consultative body) and a Provincial Counsel (created in 1845, it also functioned as a Dispute Tribunal), until the Provincial Tribunals were created. In 1868, the Provincial Counsels disappeared and their functions were assumed by Provincial Commissions, created as hierarchically superior entities to Town Halls. Since Spain’s provinces were considered part of the state, they were subject to the direct authority of the Governor and his delegates.
Provincial councils have always comprised two governing bodies: the President himself and the Plenary Council. A number of Commissions were also created to fulfil specific roles (these Commissions provided information and carried out administrative tasks; they were not decision-making bodies). The role of President was fulfilled (between 1813 and 1925) by the Political Head of the Province (who retained this title until 1849), and from 1925 onwards by the Civil Governor, who acted as ex-officio President until around 1950. Nevertheless, the Council’s true decision-making body comprised its plenary council members, who made all executive decisions until 1845. The Political Head of the Province fulfilled auxiliary duties and used his authority or coercive force when required. In 1925, the Permanent Provincial Commission was created, whose role included preparing the cases and agreements the Plenary Council would need to resolve or approve. In 1945, the Commission of Government was created to advise the President and provide information on all matters not attributed to other informative commissions.
The election and duration of the posts of these public servants also varied; until approximately 1925, representatives/Council members were elected via direct suffrage; positions deemed incompatible with that of a representative included those of councillor or mayor. From 1925 onwards, representatives would be designated by the Town Halls and directly chosen. Between 1939 and 1979, they would also be chosen from among the mayors and councillors of each judicial district, and from the various economic, cultural and professional entities of the province. Finally, from 1979 onwards, the election of representatives was via indirect suffrage of municipal councillors, distributed by judicial parties.