Functioning of the Council of Ministers

20.5.2022

The President of the Government of Spain convenes, chairs and sets the agenda for the meetings of the Council of Ministers. The Minister for the Presidency acts as secretary.

Meetings may be of a decision-making or deliberative nature. The deliberations are secret.

Minutes shall be kept of the meetings of the Council of Ministers, which shall exclusively contain the circumstances relating to the time and place of the meeting, the list of those attending, the resolutions adopted and the reports presented.

The King may chair the sessions of the Council of Ministers and be informed of affairs of State, when he deems it appropriate, at the request of the President of the Government of Spain.

Attendance at meetings of the Council of Ministers

In addition to members of the government, secretaries of state and, exceptionally, other high-ranking officials may attend, but only when summoned by the president, as may the king.

The attendees must promise or take an oath to maintain the secrecy of the deliberations and they do not have a vote.

Meetings of the Council of Ministers

It ordinarily meets on Tuesdays at Moncloa Palace (Madrid), although exceptionally it may meet on any other day.

The President of the Government of Spain can move the meetings of the Council of Ministers to other cities, if he deems it necessary. They have been held in Barcelona, Seville, A Coruña, Palma de Mallorca, Palos de la Frontera (Huelva), Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, León and Mérida.

In exceptional circumstances, the Chief Executive can, with good reason, decide that the Council of Ministers may hold meetings, adopt resolutions and approve minutes remotely by electronic means, provided that the participating members are in Spanish territory and their identity is accredited. Communication among them in real time during the session must be secure, and the necessary means must be provided to guarantee the secrecy and confidentiality of their deliberations.

One example is the holding of several Councils of Ministers by videoconference during the state of alarm decreed on 14 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 health crisis. The first of these took place on 17 March of that year from the premises of the National Security Department in Moncloa Palace.

The General Commission of Secretaries of State and Under-Secretaries is a government support body made up of the heads of the Secretaries of State and Under-Secretaries of the different ministerial departments and is chaired by the Vice-President of the Government of Spain or, in his absence, the Minister for the Presidency.

The Commission examines all matters to be submitted to the Council of Ministers for approval, except appointments, dismissals, promotions or any of the posts in the general officer category and those which, exceptionally and for reasons of urgency, must be submitted directly to the Council of Ministers.

Each ministry submits a list of what it considers should be examined by the Council of Ministers, constituting the partial indices. The set of these partial indexes is called the black index and contains all the issues to be addressed.

On this basis, the final agenda is drawn up and the issues are organised into two groups:

  • Green index: made up of the cases reported favourably by the General Committee of Secretaries of State and Under-Secretaries. The green index will be the first order of business for the Council of Ministers.
  • Red index: composed of the topics to be submitted for special deliberation. The red index will be the second order of business.

Functions of the Council of Ministers

As a collegiate body of the Government, the Council of Ministers is responsible for exercising the following functions:

  • Approve draft laws and refer them to the Lower House of Parliament or, where appropriate, to the Upper House of Parliament.
  • Approve the General State Budget Bill.
  • Approve Royal Decree-Laws and Royal Legislative Decrees.
  • Agree on the negotiation and signature of international treaties and their provisional application.
  • Refer international treaties to the General Courts under the terms provided for in Articles 94 and 96.2 of the Constitution.
  • Declare states of alarm and emergency and propose to the Lower House of Parliament the declaration of a state of siege.
  • To provide for the issuance of public debt or to contract credit, when authorised by law.
  • Approve the regulations for the development and execution of laws, following the opinion of the Council of State, as well as other appropriate regulatory provisions.
  • Creating, modifying and suppressing the executive bodies of the ministerial departments.
  • Adopt programmes, plans and guidelines that are binding for all the bodies of the General State Administration.
  • Exercise such other powers as are conferred on it by the Constitution, the law and any other provision.

Urgent processing of regulatory initiatives in the field of the General State Administration.

At the proposal of the head of the department to which the regulatory initiative corresponds, the Council of Ministers may agree to the urgent processing of the procedure for the drafting and approval of preliminary draft laws, royal legislative decrees and royal decrees, in any of the following cases:

  • When it is necessary for the rule to enter into force within the period required for the transposition of Community directives or that laid down in other laws or rules of European Union law.
  • When there are other extraordinary circumstances which could not have been foreseen and which require the urgent adoption of the regulation.

Delegation and devolution of powers

The administrative functions of the Council of Ministers may be delegated, at the proposal of the President of the Government of Spain, to the Government Delegate Commissions.

Powers attributed directly by the Constitution to the Council, such as those relating to the appointment and dismissal of senior officials, those attributed to the collegiate bodies of the Government and those attributed by a law expressly prohibiting delegation, may not be delegated.

In addition, the Council of Ministers may, at the proposal of the President of the Government of Spain, refer to itself knowledge of a matter whose decision corresponds to the Government Delegate Commissions.

Government Secretariat

The Government Secretariat is another support body of the Council of Ministers. It assists the minister-secretary of the Council of Ministers; it sends notices to the members of the Government; it files and keeps the notices, agendas and minutes of the meetings; it improves the technical quality of the provisions approved by the Executive; and it ensures the correct and faithful publication of the provisions and regulations to be published in the Official State Gazette.

Minutes of the Council of Ministers

The minutes follow a strict administrative procedure that requires all ministries to expressly agree to their content, culminating in their signature by the Minister for the Presidency, as secretary of the Council of Ministers, and by the President of the Government of Spain themselves.

Once initialled, they are kept in the Central Archive of the Ministry of the Presidency, Parliamentary Relations and Democratic Memory. The first surviving record dates from 3 January 1824.

The minutes of the Council of Ministers are not public, given that access to them could undermine the confidentiality and secrecy of the deliberations of the Council of Ministers established by law (article 5.3 of Law 50/1997 of 27 November 1997 on the Government).

So far, eight volumes have been officially published corresponding to the period of Ferdinand VII (between 1824-1833); two volumes corresponding to the period of Isabella II (1833 to 1839, 1843-1844 and 1854-1855) and the First Spanish Republic (1873-1874); plus another corresponding to the second period of the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, known as the Civil Directory (1925-1930). This last period is the only one in Spain's political history that is documented in detail in the minutes of the Council of Ministers.

These minutes cover a period of 106 years, between 1824 and 1930. Only 21 of them, some of them incomplete, are kept on record. In some cases they were not drafted and in others they were lost.

The agreement to publish them was adopted during the presidency of Felipe González, who justified the decision by highlighting their documentary value and their contribution to transparency and the common heritage of Spaniards.

Communication of the agreements of the Council of Ministers

Following the meetings of the Council of Ministers, the minister who acts as the government spokesperson holds a press conference to report on the agreements. They may appear alone or in the company of other ministers. In their absence, the first vice-president, another vice-president or a minister to be decided upon acts as spokesperson. The President of the Government of Spain can also report on what has been discussed.

The press conference is offered live on the Moncloa website and on the Government's social networks.

The government also prepares a Reference of the Council of Ministers, a document that reports on the issues discussed, which is not the minutes of the meeting and has no legal validity. This document is available to journalists and to all citizens on the Moncloa website.

Background to the current Council of Ministers

Acta original del Consejo de Ministros del 15 de febrero de 1824

The origins of the Council of Ministers date back to 19 November 1823, when King Ferdinand VII issued a Royal Decree creating the Council of Ministers, addressed to the then first Secretary of State, Víctor Damián Sáez. It coincided with the last stage of Ferdinand's absolutism, known as the "ominous decade".

According to this rule, the Council of Ministers is a collegiate body, chaired by the King, who, in his absence, delegates the presidency to the first Secretary of State. It is made up of five members: the first Secretary of State and State Office, and the Secretaries of Grace and Justice, War, the Navy and Finance.

Its functions are to issue orders by common consent in the interests of the peoples of Spain, to enable the king to "penetrate deeply" into the needs of his vassals and to re-establish order in all areas of his government, just as his predecessors Philip V and Charles III had done. Among the stated objectives is that decisions should be taken with the "appropriate unity" so that they can be implemented swiftly. In addition, the text stipulates that the agreements adopted must be recorded in a book. These agreements required the king's favourable sanction to be enforceable.

A Royal Decree of 31 December 1824 institutionalised and regularised the Council of Ministers. Ferdinand VII confirms that in his absence the Council of the Secretary of State and the Universal Office will chair the Council, under the previously non-existent title of President of the Council of Ministers. However, until December 1832 with the government of Cea Bermúdez, this title was hardly ever used, nor did the Secretary of State act as effective president.

First meeting of the Council of Ministers

Scholars disagree on which was the first meeting of the Council of Ministers. On 21 November 1823, an official letter convening the ministers for the following day at half past ten in the morning was dated 21 November 1823. However, no minutes of this meeting have been found.

The first meeting recorded in the minutes was that of 3 January 1824, although it was unsigned. The Council met 42 times in 1824.

Some authors point out that the absence of minutes in November and December 1823 suggests that the meetings did not take place. Others point out that there are at least six draft minutes and that the newspapers of the time published decrees issued by the Council of Ministers in November and December, so the Councils must have been held.

In principle, the Council of Ministers met once a week, later on two days, Tuesday and Saturday, and there could have been evening and extraordinary sessions on single issues.

According to the minutes, the Council met from its inception until 1825 in the Royal Palace. From then until the end of the reign of Isabel II, the second seat of the Council was the so-called Casa de los Ministerios, a building that now houses the Centre for Constitutional Studies. Meetings were also held at some of the Royal Sites, such as Aranjuez, San Lorenzo and La Granja.

The first titular secretary of the Council of Ministers was Antonio de Ugarte y Larrazábal, who signed the first minutes of the Council of Ministers on 15 February 1824.

Sources: Spanish Constitution of 1978 (Articles 62, 88, 112, 115, 116); Law 50/1997, of 27 November, on the Government; Minutes of the Council of Ministers (Central Library of the Ministry of the Presidency); S.G. of Publications, Documentation and Archives of the Ministry of the Presidency, Relations with the Courts and Democratic Memory; The origins of the Council of Ministers in Spain: the Supreme State Board. José Antonio Escudero.