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UK driving licences: Will approval by Spain's Council of Ministers be the final step?

The Local Spain
The Local Spain - [email protected]
UK driving licences: Will approval by Spain's Council of Ministers be the final step?
Once both sides sign the agreement, the legislation should theoretically come into force the day after the final signature, upon the law’s publication in Spain’s official state bulletin (BOE). Photo: Ryunosuke Kikuno/Unsplash

The UK Embassy's latest message that “within the next few weeks” Spain’s Council of Minister will approve the driving licence exchange deal has desperate drivers feeling like it’s Groundhog Day, but will this truly be the final legal step in bureaucracy-heavy Spain?

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299 days have passed since the UK driving licences of Spanish residents ceased to be valid in Spain, after months of failed negotiations and a deadline which was pushed back four times.

Ten months later, on February 22nd 2023, affected drivers heard an all too familiar message posted on the UK Embassy in Madrid’s social media channels: “You will be able to drive again very shortly after approval by the Consejo de Ministros which, to repeat, we expect to take place within the next few weeks”.

This was met mainly by angry comments as it’s not the first time UK authorities have used the “within weeks” promise. The earliest reference we can find in our coverage is from June 2nd 2022.

However, amid all the online bickering between commenters, some are now considering if at this point in time it’s Brexit that’s causing the never-ending delay and not Spanish bureaucracy, as for several months now UK Ambassador Hugh Elliott has pointed to the fact that ‘the ball is in Spain’s court’.

So what has to happen for UK licence holders to finally be allowed back on Spain’s roads?

In a January 16th post, the UK embassy wrote: “The Agreement will go forward to the Consejo de Ministros for approval – these meetings take place each week and, while we have no control over the scheduling, we hope it will be tabled very soon. There will then be a formal exchange of notes and the Agreement will apply once it is published in the BOE (state bulletin).”

This is not usually how laws are passed in Spain, where after approval in the Spanish Council of Ministers (also called Spanish Cabinet), they then have to receive a majority in the Spanish Parliament/Congress, next they go to the Senate for any amendments and final ratification, and only then does legislation finally come into force.

And yes, this can take months, sometimes years.

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However, there is something called a decreto-ley, often referred to in the Spanish press as a decretazo

It’s a legal tool which can be used in times of emergency or for a matter of urgency, allowing the Spanish government to bring in legislation without the usual legal rigmarole, essentially sidestepping the parliament and the senate. 

These decretazos were used during the pandemic when declaring the state of emergency in Spain and fast-tracking other Covid-19 regulations.

Any objective observer will conclude that Spanish authorities do not truly view the UK licence debacle as an ‘emergency’, but at least those affected can have the peace of mind of knowing that the highly-anticipated agreement will only need the go-ahead in the Consejo de Ministros before coming into effect.

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That’s because one of the Spanish Council of Ministers’ functions is to “agree on the negotiation and signing of international treaties, as well as their provisional application”.

Once both sides sign the agreement, the legislation should theoretically come into force the day after the final signature, upon the law’s publication in Spain’s official state bulletin (BOE).

For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of Spain’s bureaucratic maze and its impact on foreigners in particular, in-limbo UK licence holders can rest assured they are not alone. 

There are reportedly 500,000 undocumented migrants in Spain who for years have not had access to education, healthcare or social security despite working, because they don’t have the right residency documents.

There are also upwards of 40,000 highly qualified foreigners, from doctors to engineers, who have been prevented from working in their fields as Spain takes three, four, five, sometimes six years to recognise their qualifications.

In both cases, there are Spanish laws which should guarantee them these basic rights, but they’re not being respected.

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