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Why Spain is fighting the UN to double in size

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected]
Why Spain is fighting the UN to double in size
Spain is fighting the UN to double in size. Photo: Alejandro Piñero Amerio / Pixabay

Spain is the 51st largest country in the world in terms of landmass but Spanish authorities are now stating their case with the United Nations claiming the country is actually 500,000 km2 bigger than what it’s currently registered as.


The size of Spain is currently recorded as 505,000 km2, but by trying to claim an extra 500,000 km2, the country will in fact be double the size.

Spanish authorities are arguing that there is a 500,000 km2 continental shelf submerged under the sea that belongs to Spain and wants this to be recognised.


The claim comes after years of expeditions and studies by experts from the Navy Hydrographic Institute, part of the Maritime Action Force of the Spanish navy fleet, as well as technicians from the Institute of Oceanography and the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain.  

Spain is not the only country that claims to be bigger because of a submerged continental shelf, the United Nations currently has similar requests from 60 different countries around the world.   

These requests began as a result of the fact that in the 1980s the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea included a clause that stated that coastal countries had the right to claim an extension of the 200 nautical miles from their coastline as an Exclusive Economic Zone.

Exclusive economic zone spain un

Map showing Spain's Exclusive Economic Zone in light blue. Spanish authorities now want to extend the size of some of these three territories.  Map: NACLE/ Wikipedia (CC BY SA 4.0)

The size could be disputed "as long as it was scientifically and technically demonstrated that the submerged territory is a natural prolongation of the emerged territory", Captain Luis Miguel Rioja, who is part of the team of the Navy Hydrographic Institute, told Spanish news agency EFE. 


Article 77, part of the same Law of the Sea stated this could be extended by a further 150 nautical miles and that the rights of a country over this territory would be for exploration, conservation and exploitation of the marine soil.  

In 1999, the UN published a set of guidelines to allow countries to prove the submerged piece of land they wanted to claim and granted a period of ten years for them to submit their requests. However, so many wanted to file that the deadline had to be extended. 

During these years, Spain submitted three applications for extension. One area of 79,000 km2 has been approved since 2009 and is shared between Spain, Ireland, the UK and France.  

Later that same year, Spain wanted to annex a further 50,000 km2 onto this territory north of Galicia, of which the UN has pre-approved approximately 20,000 km2, including Mount Finisterre.

Then in 2014, the UN approved another 296,000 km2 of submerged continental shelf that extends to the west of the Canary Islands.  

Spain currently has three Exclusive Economic Zones, one off the coast of Galicia in the Atlantic, one in the Mediterranean around the Balearic Islands, and another one in the Atlantic around the Canary Islands. 

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Now experts from the Navy Hydrographic Institute believe they have gathered enough data to prove that they have even more land submerged beneath the sea.

In essence, Spanish authorities now want to extend the size of each of these three Exclusive Economic Zone territories. 

All these applications will add up to a total of 500,000 km2 in addition to Spain's current landmass.

In February 2023, representatives from the institute will travel to the UN headquarters in New York to state their case.

"We could have it approved within one or two years,” they stated. 

It is believed that off the coast of Galicia there could be natural gas between 3,000 and 5,000 metres deep, as well as deposits of manganese and other resources, but "today it is practically impossible to exploit anything at those depths," Captain Rioja of the Navy Hydrographic Institute told EFE.

"Now everything is more focused on conservation than exploitation," he concluded.  




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