Heads of Spanish Government: The Spanish President & Council of Ministers

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  • 0:02 Heads of Government in Spain
  • 0:30 History
  • 1:10 President
  • 3:15 Council of Ministers
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the executive offices of the Spanish government, and the history and duties of the Spanish presidency and his Council of Ministers.

Heads of Government in Spain

When was the last time you were the leader of something? Perhaps you were the captain of a sports team, or perhaps you led on an important project at your workplace. In any case, most of the team looked to you for direction, advice, and the important decisions. In a government, this role is usually filled by an executive branch or the leader of the government. In Spain, the functional head of the government is the president and his Council of Ministers. Let's take a closer look at these entities.


First off, we should note that the president of Spain is not a 'president' in the way that you or I think of a president. In Spain, El Presidente del Gobierno is actually something closer to a prime minister - the leader of the Spanish legislature - rather than a separate, American-style executive president. The president is a post completely created by the 1978 Spanish Constitution. Prior to 1978, Spain endured nearly four decades of a military dictatorship. Despite a short-lived republic in the 1930s, prior to that Spain had been an absolute monarchy for centuries. Therefore, the 1978 Spanish Constitution created an entirely new post.


Though the official head of state is still the king, as Spain was declared a constitutional monarchy, for all practical reasons the president is Spain's head of state. In Spain, the president is officially nominated by the king after a general election. In the run-up to a general election, each party nominates its party leader as the possible president of the government. This makes elections a bit different for Spaniards than they are in the U.S. for you or me; Spanish voters don't actually get to vote directly for their president! Instead they vote only for their local candidate, and their vote essentially counts as a vote for the party leader as president as well!

Though the king may technically nominate whichever leader he pleases, he has always nominated the leader whose party wins either a majority or plurality of the seats in the Spanish Cortes' lower house, the Congress. After the king's official nomination, the president still must give a long speech to Congress detailing his plans for governing. Afterward, the Congress votes on whether to place their confidence in the president; the president must win a majority of the votes to be placed in office.

In comparison to other Western countries with strong presidencies, like the United States or France, the Spanish presidency is a relatively weak position. The president is charged with all Spanish foreign policy and takes up the spot allotted to the Spanish executive in the European Council, and represents Spain at all meetings of foreign leaders. The Spanish president is also considered the 'defender of the nation,' and can direct Spain's armed forces to prepare for the defense of the nation if Spain is attacked. The Spanish president and his administration are charged with ensuring the day-to-day business of the government runs smoothly.

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