Senior ministry officials (the Spanish junior ministers, known as secretaries of state, and leading civil servants in the 17 ministries, known as undersecretaries) effectively prepare the cabinet meetings. They meet every Wednesday in a preparatory committee (the so-called Comisión General de Subsecretarios y Secretarios de Estado), two days before the weekly Friday Council of Ministers meeting. All issues arrive in time to be reviewed and filtered first by this committee. The government office, directed by a minister who is also the first deputy prime minister, chairs the meetings of this preparatory committee in which all draft bills, all appointments and any other ministerial proposals are discussed and scheduled as a part of the cabinet agenda. The government office also collects and circulates all relevant documents for the cabinet meeting among line ministers.
A provisional agenda (known as the “black index”) is published a week before the cabinet meeting. On Tuesday mornings, senior PM’s Private Office officials assess the relative importance of agenda items on the black index and identify where there are likely to be divergent positions. Thus, the Wednesday meetings of the preparatory committee perform an important gatekeeping function in returning problematic proposals to the appropriate line ministry and forwarding the remaining proposals to the cabinet (now classified into two indexes: the green index, which covers ongoing administrative matters, and the red index, for issues which are more political either by nature or because a lack of ministerial consensus). Nevertheless, although the senior ministry officials effectively filter out and settle almost all issues, allowing the cabinet to focus on strategic policy debates, the truth is that important political discussions in the Spanish cabinet are rare.