In the last several decades, Spain has been transformed from an agricultural country to a modernized industrial nation, in addition to becoming a member of the European Union (EU) in 1986. Its distinction of being the sunniest country in Europe has made it a popular vacation destination and contributed to a booming tourist trade.
Spain today is a parliamentary monarchy with the king as head of state. Executive power rests with an elected prime minister, usually the leader of the strongest party in parliament. The parliament, or Las Cortes Generales, is made up of two houses, a 350-member Congress of Deputies and a 259-member Senate.
All the Deputies and 208 of the Senators are elected for four-year terms. The remaining 51 senators are nominated by the 17 autonomous communities in Spain. These autonomous communities include the Basques, the Catalonians, and several other regions. These regions are not fully self-governing, but they have been granted authority to deal with a variety of local issues.
However, one segment of the Basque population - the Eta separatist rebels - have not been content with partial self-government. In protest, they commit terrorist acts generally directed against Spanish officials. By one account, the group has been responsible for 800 lives lost since the late 1960s. In January 2011 the Eta announced a ceasefire; however, government skeptics note previous ceasefires have dissolved into continued violence.
Spain remained an agrarian society until the 1960s, when a dramatic shift from agriculture to industrialization began to take place.
Despite great economic progress, Spain faces stiff challenges if it is to maintain the economic gains of recent decades. These challenges include adjusting to the monetary changes and other economic policies of an integrated, single-currency European Union (EU), while continually trying to reduce the country's high level of unemployment, as well as providing tax reform.
Having become a more aggressive business entity since joining the EU, Spain is bringing its policies and business climate more in line with other member European countries.
The pace of business has accelerated. The business style in Madrid is now similar to other European business centers. The tradition of a midday siesta break has given way to more typical business hours.
There is a large community of predominantly U.S., Canadian, and British expatriates in Madrid, with similar communities in other major cities throughout Spain.
Spain offers a comfortable lifestyle for foreigners to embrace. Visitors will find pleasant facilities for living, working, and absorbing the culture of a modern European country with a special flair. This is accomplished despite the slower pace of life and some of the frustrating bureaucratic process that foreigners may encounter.