A Quasi-Presidential Premiership: Administering the Executive Summit in Spain

  • Paul Heywood
  • Ignacio Molina
Part of the Transforming Government book series (TRGO)


Spain, which has limited experience of stable parliamentary government and has been marked by a weakly developed civil society, has traditionally been ruled by strong — often authoritarian — governments, supported by a long-established but uneven administrative apparatus. The position of head of government, with a formal support structure, was established early in European terms, though, in practice, before the 1930s a heavily interventionist monarchy left the prime minister (Presidente del Gobierno)2 with little real autonomy or leadership capacity. Moreover, throughout most of the Franco dictatorship (1939–75), the positions of head of state and head of government were institutionally embodied in the person of the dictator himself. Only with the post-Franco transition to democracy was it possible to establish a parliamentary democracy with a strong government over which the prime minister exercises significant authority.


Prime Minister Civil Servant General Secretariat Parliamentary Democracy Minority Government 
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  1. 3.
    The government shares the right to present bills with parliament (Cortes), the Autonomous Communities, and initiatives sponsored by the public; however, the massive technical and administrative advantages enjoyed by the government underline its dominant position. See L. López Guerra, ‘El Gobierno en la Constitución de 1978’, in 1812–1992: El arte de gobemar. Historia del Consejo de Ministros y de la Presidencia del Gobierno (Madrid: Ministerio de Relaciones con las Cortes y de la Secretaría del Gobierno/Tecnos, 1992), p. 190.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    The PM’s dominant status is recognized in the formal designation of the position: President of the Government. See further, P. Heywood, ‘Governing a New Democracy: The Power of the Prime Minister in Spain’, West European Politics, 14/2 (1991); P. Heywood and I. Molina, ‘La “présidentialisation” du système espagnol: la Moncloa’, Revue Française d’Administration Publique, 83 (1997), pp. 447–58.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Formally established by the PSOE administration in 1982. Previously, Adolfo Suárez and Calvo-Sotelo had relied on a de facto support structure, known in the case of the former as ‘fontaneros’ (plumbers, after Watergate). F. Müller-Rommel, ‘Ministers and the Role of the Prime Ministerial Staff’, in J. Blondel and F. Müller-Rommel (eds), Governing Together (London: Macmillan, 1993), identifies four functions: advising the PM, monitoring interdepartmental activity, developing independent initiatives, and preparing the agenda for the Council of Ministers. The Spanish Private Office focuses on the first two of these.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    See L. Ortega, ‘El Gabinete del Presidente del Gobierno’, in 1812–1992: El arte de gobernar. Historia del Consejo de Ministros y de la Presidencia del Gobierno (Madrid: Ministerio de Relaciones con las Cortes y de la Secretaría del Gobierno/Tecnos, 1992), p. 206.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    See A. Bar, ‘Spain: A Prime Ministerial Government’, in J. Blondel and F. Müller-Rommel (eds), Cabinets in Western Europe, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan, 1997), p. 119.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    See P. Heywood, ‘Continuity and Change: Analysing Political Corruption in Spain’, in W. Little and E. Posada-Carbó (eds), Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America (London: Macmillan, 1996), pp. 115–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 17.
    See M. Baena del Alcázar, Curso de Ciencia de la Administración I (Madrid: Tecnos, 1988), pp. 223–4. As already indicated, when the Partido Popular came to power, the post of Minister of the Cabinet was assumed by the vice-premier, Alvarez Cascos.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    See J. García Fernández, ‘El Ministerio de Relaciones con las Cortes y de la Secretaría del Gobierno’, in 1812–1992: El arte de gobernar. Historia del Consejo de Ministros y de la Presidencia del Gobierno (Madrid: Ministerio de Relaciones con las Cortes y de la Secretaría del Gobierno/Tecnos, 1992), pp. 218–21.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    As is the case with the current Director, Carlos Aragonés, whose free-market liberal background and close proximity to Aznar has cemented his position as chief ideological guru within the Partido Popular, to the detriment of those research centres and think-tanks with a more conservative or christian democratic orientation. Under the Socialist administration of González, the deputy PM was highly influential in shaping the Private Office of the Premiership, resulting in two distinct periods corresponding respectively to the social democratic views of Guerra (who designated Roberto Dorado as Director of the PM’s Private Office) and the ‘renovador’ stance of Serra (whose appointments were Antonio Zabalza and shortly after Enrique Serrano). None of these four incumbents of the post since it was created can properly be considered a civil servant. On the other hand, party membership does not appear to be essential, above all, among lower-ranking advisers: see B. Olías de Lima, ‘Los gabinetes de los Presidentes de Gobierno en España’, Política y Sociedad, 16 (1994), p. 226.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Of particular note in this regard are the cases of Adolfo Suárez, whose secretariat was run by his brother-in-law, and the early years of Felipe González’s period in office, who appointed his former PR consultant. See J. Feo, Aquellos anos (Barcelona: Ediciones B, 1993), p. 223.Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    See Ortega, ‘El Gabinete del Presidente’, and J. López Calvo, Organización y funcionamiento del Gobierno (Madrid: Tecnos, 1996).Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    See W. C. Müller, W. Phillip and P. Gerlich, ‘Prime Ministers and Cabinet Decision-making Processes’, and T. Larsson, ‘The Role and Position of Ministers of Finance’, in J. Blondel and F. Müller-Rommel, Governing Together (London: Macmillan, 1993), p. 253 and pp. 210–11.Google Scholar
  13. 36.
    See R. Rose, ‘Prime Ministers in Parliamentary Democracies’, West European Politics, 14 (1991), pp. 18–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Heywood
  • Ignacio Molina

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