Research in Spain

Working in Europe | Research Landscape | Spain

The Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, via its State Secretariat for Research, Development and Innovation, is responsible for scientific and technical research, development and innovation policies, including managing international relations related to this topic and Spanish representation in international programmes, forums and organisations to the European Union on topics regarding its responsibilities.



The objective of the Science, Technology and Innovation Law[1] (hereinafter “STI Act” after its initials in Spanish) is to contribute to sustainable economic development and social welfare by generating, spreading and transferring knowledge and innovation.

The STI Act defines the Spanish Science, Technology and Innovation System as a “system of systems”, integrating and coordinating general State policies with those of the Autonomous Communities and articulating the actions in the public and private (company) spheres via the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Council.

Spanish R&D&I policy is established based around:

a) Spanish Strategy on Science and Technology and on Innovation: contains the general framework.

b) State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and on Innovation: develops the aims and principles of the Spanish Strategy and plans for the specific actions to undertake.

[1]Law 14/2011 of 1 June on Science, Technology and Innovation (BOE no. 131 of 2 June 2011)


Spanish Strategy on Science and Technology and on Innovation 2013-2020

The Spanish Strategy is the result of a process of coordination between all the public agents with responsibilities in designing R&D&I public policy with broad social participation. The Strategy identifies 4 general objectives around which to draw up the various actions that will cover the whole process of development and application of scientific and technological research “from the idea to the market”.



State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and for Innovation 2013-2016


Spain’s National Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and National Innovation Plan consists of 4 State Programmes and 2 Strategic Actions which meet the general objectives of the Spanish Strategy and enable the entire funding instruments and modes of participation that the General State Administration makes available to users.

The programmes can be broken down into various subprogrammes, organised into different competitive calls in which resources are guaranteed to be allocated by processes based on international assessment systems.


State Programme for Promoting and Hiring of Talent and its Employability

  •   State Subprogramme for Training.
  •   State Subprogramme for Hiring.
  •   State Subprogramme for Mobility.

State Programme for the Promotion of Excellent Scientific and Technical Research

  •   State Subprogramme for the Generation of Knowledge.
  •   State Subprogramme for the Development of Emerging Technologies.
  •   State Subprogramme for Institutional Strengthening.
  •   State Subprogramme for Scientific and Technical Infrastructure and Equipment.

State Programmes for R+D+I Business Leadership

  •   State Subprogramme for Business R+D+I.
  •   State Subprogramme for Essential Enabling Technologies.
  •   State Subprogramme for Collaborative R+D+I Targeted to the Demands of the Production Network.

State Programmes for R+D+I Targeted to Societal Challenges

  •   Health, Demographic Change and Welfare.
  •   Food Safety and Quality; Productive and Sustainable Agricultural Activity, Natural Resources, Marine and Maritime Research.
  •   Safe, Efficient and Clean Energy.
  •   Smart, Sustainable and Integrated Transport.
  •   Action on Climate Change and Efficiency in the Use of Resources and Raw Materials.
  •   Social Innovation and Changes.
  •   Security, Protection and Defence.

Strategic Actions

  •   Strategic Action on Health.
  •   Strategic Action on Economy and Digital Society.

Sede central en Madrid de la Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, CSIC. Organismo Público de Investigación
Headquarters in Madrid of the Spanish National Research Council, CSIC. Public Research Organisation



In Spain there are over fifty large facilities afforded this denomination. They are dedicated to the practice of avant-garde science and require international collaboration. They are unique in kind and require sizeable investments, both in infrastructure and in specialist personnel. As they are tools at the service of the scientific and industrial community, they have an “Access Protocol” to regulate their use by scientists and other external users.

Further details and the full list of ICTS here.



The Spanish Strategy on Science and Technology and on Innovation 2013-2020 and the State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and for Innovation 2013-2020 identify participation in the construction and use of Large International Scientific Facilities and in their associated International Bodies as a key action line. These facilities offer the most advanced resources, indispensable for boosting the quality of our research results and international technological development, as well as improving the competitiveness of our companies and their external projection.

  • CERN: European Laboratory for Particle Physic
  • ILL: Institut Laue-Langevin
  • ESRF: European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
  • XFEL Europeo: European X-ray Free Electron Laser
  • ITER: International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
  • JET: Joint European Torus
  • ESO: European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere
  • CPE: Comité Polar Español
  • EFI: European Forest Institute
  • INL: International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory
  • E-Ciencia: a través de iniciativas como EGI (European GridInitiative), IBERGRID, y GÉANT
  • GBIF: Global Biodiversity Information Facility
  • PRAC E: Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe
  • EMBO/EMBL/EMBC: European Molecular Biology Organization, Laboratory and Conference
  • IODP /ICDP: Integrated Ocean and Continental Drilling Programs
  • CECAM : Centre Européen de Calcul Atomique et Moléculaire
  • ESS-Bilbao: Sede Española de la Fuente Europea de Neutrones por Espalación
  • ESA: Programa Científico de la Agencia Espacial Europea



The Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) supports the Secretariat of State for R&D&I in monitoring and assessing indicators through the Spanish R&D&I Observatory, ICONO.

ICONO prepares an Annual Report on Indicators of the Spanish Science, Technology and Innovation System detailing the System’s economic and human resources and the results of Spain’s scientific research, development and innovation activities.

From this publication, which most recently presented data from 2011, it emerged that the cost of R&D to the Spanish Government amounted to 1.33% of GDP. In terms of the cost by financing sector, state administrations assumed 48.5% of the cost of R&D, companies 44.3%, foreign investment 6.7% and Private, Not-for-Profit Institutions 0.6%.

Broken down by Autonomous Region, the Basque Country (2.1%), Navarre (2.05%) and Catalonia (1.55%) are those that in 2011 spent more than the national average on R&D in terms of cost as a proportion of GDP.

The number of people employed in R&D on FTE (Full Time Equivalent) was 215,079 people, or 11.9 per thousand of the total employed population, of which 130,235 were researchers on FTE. Broken down by Autonomous Region, Madrid (23.8%), Catalonia (20.7%) and Andalusia (11.8%) together made up over 50% of the total personnel employed in R&D.

In 2011, scientific production in Spain was in tenth place in the world ranking, with 3.17% of the world total.

In terms of impact the most significant areas are Energy, Veterinary and Material Sciences, and the Autonomous Regions of Madrid, Catalonia and Andalusia have the most publications of the national total.

In terms of innovation data, in 2011 the number of companies with technological innovation was 27,203 and the costs of innovation activities were €14,756 million. Innovative companies undertaking R&D activities represented 5.04% of the total business network in Spain.

The Autonomous Regions with the largest numbers of companies with innovative activities are Catalonia (5,434), Madrid (4,556), Andalusia (2,909) and Valencia (2,876), while expenditure on innovation is concentrated in Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque Country.

The total patents applied for by residents in Spain were 3,398, of which 2,582 were approved. The number of spin-off companies founded in Spain in 2011 was 111, and investment in venture capital reached €94.9 million.

The return achieved by Spain under the 7th EU Framework Programme over 2007-2011 was 7.9%. Companies with 31% and Universities with 23.4% were the institutions that received the most funding. The Autonomous Regions of Madrid (30.4%), Catalonia (29.3%) and the Basque Country accumulated the highest return.