Politics For Members

Why is Spain not in the G20 (but is always invited)?

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Why is Spain not in the G20 (but is always invited)?
US President Joe Biden talks with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez as part of the G20 Summit meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. Photo: Dita Alangkara/AFP

Despite photogenic Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez appearing at the summit in Bali this week, Spain is not a member of the G20. Why is that, and will Spain ever join?


If you keep up with Spanish social media or its news channels, you might've seen in recent days that Spain's Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has been at the G20 meeting in Indonesia.

As they often do with Sánchez, the photography of events have taken priority - at least for the internet - over the policy.

Photos of Sánchez alongside major world leaders, including President Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and French President Emmanual Macron, in the immediate aftermath of a missile landing in NATO member Poland have been widely shared.


Sánchez's place among these world leaders, and by extension Spain's position among the major superpowers, some say, confirms the country's place as a 'big' or 'important' nation on the global stage.

But the truth is that the Spanish leader was in Bali as a 'permanent guest as Spain is in fact not a member of the G20.

What is the G20? (And why is Spain not in it?)

The G20, or Group of 20, is according to its own definition "the main international forum for economic, financial and political cooperation, it addresses the great global challenges and seeks to generate public policies that solve them." 

The 20 countries making up the G20 are the US, UK, Germany, France, Russia, Italy, India, China, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Turkey, Australia, and this year's hosts, Indonesia.

Founded in 1999, the G7 countries were joined first by Russia and the 12 major emerging economies around the world.

As Spain was not among the world's major economies nor was it considered emerging, it was left out the group. 

The group makes up around 85 percent of the global gross economic product, 66 percent of the world's population, 75 percent of its international trade, and 80 percent of global investments.

US President Joe Biden (C), Britain Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Japan Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte gather to hold an "emergency" meeting to discuss a missile strike on Polish territory near the border with Ukraine. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Nineteen of the G20 members are in the top 33 economies in the world, and Spain ranks at 14th of the 33, above bigger economies than G20 members Mexico, in 15th, Indonesia, 16th, Turkey 17th, Saudi Arabia 19th, Argentina 21st and South Africa in 33rd.

Spain has the fifth largest economy in the EU, it is the home of the language spoken by 8 percent of the world's population, according to the Cervantes Institute, and is the second most visited place on earth, attracting 83.5 million tourists a year.

But still, it is not in the G20.


So why is Spain always invited?

The 2008 financial crisis ravaged the Spanish economy and left it in over a half-decade of economic decline.

When the G20 met to address the impending global economic meltdown that year, Spain was not invited.

Yet, in the end José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain's Prime Minister at the time, was allowed to attend the summit after making an arrangement with the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who let Zapatero take one of the two seats France had at the summit due to Sarkozy being the rotating presidency of the EU at the time.

Since then, Spain has continued to attend the G20 summits as a 'permanent guest,' and is the only country with such status.

Will Spain ever join the G20?

Now that Spain has been a permanent member of the G20 for almost 15 years, it seems safe to say that the G20 will not increase its number of formal members anytime soon.

To do so, an existing member would have to removed - unless they want to change the name to G21, or G22 - and this seems unlikely because though there are countries with smaller economies than Spain, their membership of the G20 adds a geographic diversity to the policy making that another European nation like Spain would take away from.

That's not to say that it might not extend permanent guest status to other countries, however. 

According to the Elcano Royal Institute, a Spanish think-tank focusing international and strategic studies, what Spain needs to do "to consolidate is its role as a permanent guest and eventually opt to be a member if the occasion arises... [is to] provide analyses, positions and proposals that interest it as a country and the other partners in this framework."


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