The article discusses the law on foundations recently introduced in Spain. Law 50 of 2002 seeks solutions to several particularly pressing problems for societies, not least Italy and Spain, in which the socalled third sector is acquiring an ever-increasing importance and spreading into hitherto unanticipated areas. The starting point of the analysis is the significance of the recognition of the right to set up foundations sanctioned by the Spanish Costitution of 1978, and its effects on legislative guidelines, namely the protection of private autonomy and simplification of structures and procedures in order to promote the effective development of activities and the achievement of founding objectives. These effects, having informed the entire Spanish legislative project,form the perspective from which this article analyses the new law; in Italy too they form the central tendency of the long-anticipated reform of Book I of the Civil Code. The study thus focuses on issues which today in Italy are at the centre of debate both at national and at local level: the private autonomy of the founder in deciding the constitution and articles of the foundation; and the autonomy of its constituent parts in making vital decisions, developing activity, managing the wealth of the foundation, achieving its objectives and, if appropriate, bringing it to an end. Limits to such autonomy are set out. These arise both by operation of law and throungh intervention from the public sphere. In Spain the legislation has imposed a unitary regime on certain kinds of private foundation, which in Italy are not subject to specific regulation. These are analysed: in particular, foundations set up by a public administration and others whose main activity is commercial notwithstanding their non-profitmaking aims.
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