1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign direct investment (FDI) has played a significant role in modernizing the Spanish economy during the past 40 years. Attracted by Spain’s large domestic market, export possibilities, and growth potential, foreign companies set up operations in large numbers. Spain’s automotive industry is mostly foreign-owned. Multinationals control half of the food production companies, one-third of chemical firms, and two-thirds of the cement sector. Several foreign investment funds acquired networks from Spanish banks, and foreign firms control about one-third of the insurance market.
The Government of Spain recognizes the value of foreign investment. Spain offers investment opportunities in sectors and activities with significant added value. There have not been any major changes in Spain’s regulations for investment and foreign exchange under the current Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) administration, which took office in June 2018. Spanish law permits 100 percent foreign ownership in investments (limits apply regarding audio-visual broadcast licenses; see next section), and capital movements are completely liberalized. Due to its degree of openness and the favorable legal framework for foreign investment, Spain has received significant foreign investments in knowledge-intensive activities in the past few years. New FDI into Spain increased by 31.6 percent in 2018 according to Spain’s Industry, Trade, and Tourism Ministry data, continuing the growing path of gross FDI flow into Spain that began significantly in 2014. In 2018, 19.2 percent of total gross investments were investments in new facilities or the expansion of productive capacity, while 59 percent of gross investments were in acquisitions of existing companies. In 2018 the United States had a gross direct investment in Spain of EUR 984 million, accounting for 2.1 percent of total investment and representing a decrease of 52 percent compared to 2017. U.S. FDI stock in Spain stayed relatively steady between 2013 (USD 33.9 billion) to 2017 (USD 33.1 billion).
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Spain has a favorable legal framework for foreign investors. Spain has adapted its foreign investment rules to a system of general liberalization, without distinguishing between EU residents and non-EU residents. Law 18/1992 of July 1, which established rules on foreign investments in Spain, provides a specific regime for non-EU persons investing in certain sectors: national defense-related activities, gambling, television, radio, and air transportation. For EU residents, the only sectors with a specific regime are the manufacture and trade of weapons or national defense-related activities. For non-EU companies, the Spanish government restricts individual ownership of audio-visual broadcasting licenses to 25 percent. Specifically, Spanish law permits non-EU companies to own a maximum of 25 percent of a company holding a digital terrestrial television broadcasting license; and for two or more non-EU companies to own a maximum of 50 percent in aggregate. In addition, under Spanish law a reciprocity principle applies (art. 25.4 General Audiovisual Law). The home country of the (non-EU) foreign company must have foreign ownership laws that permit a Spanish company to make the same transaction.
Spain is one of the 14 countries of the 28 EU member states that has established mechanisms to evaluate the possible risks of direct foreign investments. The cornerstone on which the control system is structured is the probable impact “on security and public order” of the arrival of foreign capital into Spain. Critical sectors include energy, transport, communications, technology, defense, and data processing and storage, among others.
The Spanish Constitution and Spanish law establish clear rights to private ownership, and foreign firms receive the same legal treatment as Spanish companies. There is no discrimination against public or private firms with respect to local access to markets, credit, licenses, and supplies.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Spain is a signatory to the convention on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Spain is also a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Spain has not conducted Investment Policy Reviews with these three organizations within the past three years.
For setting up a company in Spain, the two basic requirements include incorporation before a Public Notary and filing with the Mercantile Register (Registro Mercantil). The public deed of incorporation of the company must be submitted. It can be submitted electronically by the Public Notary. The Central Mercantile Register is an official institution that provides access to companies’ information supplied by the Regional Mercantile Registers after January 1, 1990. Any national or foreign company can use it but must also be registered and pay taxes and fees. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, the process to start a business in Spain should take about two weeks.
“Invest in Spain” is the Spanish investment promotion agency to facilitate foreign investment. Services are available to all investors.
Useful web sites:
- Companies register: http://www.rmc.es/Home.aspx
- Companies register for the Madrid region: https://www.rmercantilmadrid.com/RMM/Home/Index.aspx
- More information on the Mercantile Registry: http://www.rmc.es/
- Investment promotion agency: http://www.investinspain.org/invest/es/cabecera/faq-s/establecimiento-de-una-empresa/index.html
Among the financial instruments approved by the Spanish Government to provide official support for the internationalization of Spanish enterprise are the Foreign Investment Fund (FIEX), the Fund for Foreign Investment by Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (FONPYME), the Enterprise Internationalization Fund (FIEM), and the Fund for Investment in the tourism sector (FINTUR). The Spanish Government also offers financing lines for investment in the electronics, information technology and communications, energy (renewables), and infrastructure concessions sectors.