Juan Carlos I in Mallorca in 2011. Photo: Getty
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Can Spain's monarchy survive the abdication of Juan Carlos I?

The smooth succession from father to son was put in doubt after thousands of people took to the streets to call for a referendum on the future of the monarchy.

The Spanish monarchy has been thrown into crisis after the king, Juan Carlos I, announced his attention to abdicate the throne after 39 years in favour of his son Felipe. The news was conveyed via the royal household’s Twitter account and confirmed by a letter signed by Juan Carlos and posted shortly afterwards. He then made a televised address to the nation thanking the Spanish people for their support.

But the smooth succession from father to son was put in doubt after thousands of people took to the streets to call for a referendum on the future of the monarchy and more than 70,000 people signed an online petition urging Spain’s politicians to use this “historical opportunity to promote a public debate that will help regenerate democracy and determine the future of the monarchy”.

Whatever else may be written about Juan Carlos, his four-decade rule has enabled Spain to transition from the right-wing dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco to a modern pluralistic social democracy. In the course of his reign the king has been one of Europe’s most popular monarchs, although scandals in recent years have tarnished his record somewhat and are probably partly behind the popular demand for a constitutional debate.

Born in Rome on 5 January, 1938, Juan Carlos moved to Spain aged ten where he was groomed by Franco as a successor. In 1969 Franco named him as his heir, giving him the title of Prince of Spain. At this stage Juan Carlos publicly supported Franco, even acting as proxy head of state for Franco during the dictator’s final days – but all the while he was holding secret meeetings with reformist politicians.

He became king on November 22, 1975, two days after Franco’s death. It was a time of uncertainty and flux in Spanish politics. Many questioned the role Juan Carlos would play in Spain’s fledgling democracy and he immediately found himself at odds with right-wing politicians for not continuing Franco’s authoritarian policies, instead looking to left-wing, republican parties for support.

An early defining moment came during the abortive military coup of February 1981 when, as captain-general of the armed forces, in full uniform, he addressed the nation in a television broadcast to support the democratically-elected government during a TV broadcast. He used this to contradict claims by the coup leaders that he supported their actions. The coup failed and his popularity soared – even Santiago Carrillo, the leader of the just-legalised Communist Party who had dubbed the king “Juan Carlos the brief” in reference to what he presumed would be a short reign – expressed his admiration for the king’s decisive action.

Despite some remaining republicanism and independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque region, public support for Juan Carlos remained strong for the next three decades. Juan Carlos travelled the world as an effective ambassador for Spain and Spanish interests and the weddings of his three children were celebrated as major international events. In 2007 he became a YouTube sensation in the Spanish-Speaking world when, at an Ibero-American Summit in Chile, he interrupted the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez by asking him “why don’t you shut up?” (¿Por qué no te callas?). This phrase was picked up by the Spanish public and soon featured in the press, in jokes, on t-shirts and on social media.

 

Scandal and crisis

But the economic crisis in 2008 brought a change in public perception of the monarchy, particularly their use of public money to fund an extravagant lifestyle. A biography of Queen Sofía reported her views against gay marriage, and the king’s eldest daughter, Infanta Elena, divorced in 2009 – the first child of Spanish royalty to do so.

Meanwhile Juan Carlos' personal popularity took a dive in April 2012 when a photograph was published showing him posing with a dead elephant during a hunting trip to Botswana. The expensive trip was perceived as a slap in the face of crisis-hit Spaniards, even though the royal household insisted it had not been paid for with taxpayers' money. In addition, as honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature, the king’s behaviour was criticised as irresponsible. The WWF responded by removing him from his post as honorary president and the king issued a rare apology. What made it worse was that it emerged that he had not been travelling with Queen Sofía, but with German aristocrat Princess Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. It later transpired that she had accompanied him on several trips. The press, who had always respected the privacy of the royal family, began to print stories about alleged infidelities.

The royal family was further rocked by the revelation that Infanta Cristina’s husband, Iñaki Urdangarín, was under investigation for an alleged embezzlement of millions of euro of public money. He was later charged. Cristina was formally named as a suspect in 2013 and charged early in January this year.

The growing sense of scandal and waste has taken its toll on his popularity – his approval rating fell to 41% and there were further calls for his abdication, even from people who had previously supported him. His health has also been poor: he has undergone a series of hip operations after several falls. In January this year Juan Carlos made his first public appearance in two months for the “Pascua Militar”, the opening of the military year. Looking frail, his speech was hesitant and he stumbled over his words, which prompted renewed talk of abdication.

Can the monarchy survive?

In his abdication statement, Juan Carlos referred to Prince Felipe, 46, as “the incarnation of stability” – and he is well prepared for the job, having studied in Canada and the US as well as completing his military training in Spain. He has stood in for his father on several occasions and his personal popularity has remained strong with an approval rating of about 66%.

Felipe VI will bring a new style to the Spanish monarchy, with his wife, former news anchor Letizia Ortiz, styled as “the first middle-class queen”. The couple is generally well-liked, but the institution of monarchy has suffered in the last few years – and Felipe won’t have the opportunity, like his father did, to appear as the saviour of democracy.

The revisionists are already at work. Despite all the recent criticism, the Spanish media are falling over themselves to praise Juan Carlos and his many achievements. And when the dust settles, Felipe will have to face some difficult challenges: Spain is still deeply in economic crisis with high unemployment and a political class dogged by accusations of corruption. As for Felipe, all eyes will be on his investment ceremony (there will be no coronation as the king of Spain doesn’t wear a crown) and how much public money is spent on it.

Meanwhile he will have to weather the storm of his own sister’s trial. Regardless of her guilt or innocence, if she is cleared, the public will assume preferential treatment. If Cristina is found guilty and sentenced, all eyes will be on how she is punished. The outcome of the trial, and Felipe’s reaction to it, will be a key point of reference for how he is perceived by Spaniards and perhaps the future of the Spanish monarchy.

The ConversationFernando Rosell-Aguilar does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Photo: Getty
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Sean Spicer's Emmys love-in shows how little those with power fear Donald Trump

There's tolerance for Trump and his minions from those who have little to lose from his presidency.

He actually did it. Sean Spicer managed to fritter away any residual fondness anyone had for him (see here, as predicted), by not having the dignity to slip away quietly from public life and instead trying to write off his tenure under Trump as some big joke.

At yesterday’s Emmys, as a chaser to host Stephen Colbert’s jokes about Donald Trump, Sean Spicer rolled onto the stage on his SNL parody podium and declared, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period.” Get it? Because the former communications director lied about the Trump inauguration crowd being the largest in history? Hilarious! What is he like? You can’t take him anywhere without him dropping a lie about a grave political matter and insulting the gravity of the moment and the intelligence of the American people and the world. 

Celebs gasped when they saw him come out. The audience rolled in the aisles. I bet the organisers were thrilled. We got a real live enabler, folks!

It is a soul-crushing sign of the times that obvious things need to be constantly re-stated, but re-state them we must, as every day we wake up and another little bit of horror has been prettified with some TV make-up, or flattering glossy magazine profile lighting.

Spicer upheld Trump's lies and dissimulations for months. He repeatedly bullied journalists and promoted White House values of misogyny, racism, and unabashed dishonesty. The fact that he was clearly bad at his job and not slick enough to execute it with polished mendacity doesn't mean he didn't have a choice. Just because he was a joke doesn't mean he's funny.

And yet here we are. The pictures of Spicer's grotesque glee at the Emmy after-party suggested a person who actually can't quite believe it. His face has written upon it the relief and ecstasy of someone who has just realised that not only has he got away with it, he seems to have been rewarded for it.

And it doesn't stop there. The rehabilitation of Sean Spicer doesn't only get to be some high class clown, popping out of the wedding cake on a motorised podium delivering one liners. He also gets invited to Harvard to be a fellow. He gets intellectual gravitas and a social profile.

This isn’t just a moment we roll our eyes at and dismiss as Hollywood japes. Spicer’s celebration gives us a glimpse into post-Trump life. Prepare for not only utter impunity, but a fete.

We don’t even need to look as far as Spicer, Steve Bannon’s normalisation didn’t even wait until he left the White House. We were subjected to so many profiles and breathless fascinations with the dark lord that by the time he left, he was almost banal. Just your run of the mill bar room bore white supremacist who is on talk show Charlie Rose and already hitting the lucrative speaker’s circuit.

You can almost understand and resign yourself to Harvard’s courting of Spicer; it is after all, the seat of the establishment, where this year’s freshman intake is one third legacy, and where Jared Kushner literally paid to play, but Hollywood? The liberal progressive Hollywood that took against Trump from the start? There is something more sinister, more revealing going here. 

The truth is, despite the pearl clutching, there is a great deal of relative tolerance for Trump because power resides in the hands of those who have little to lose from a Trump presidency. There are not enough who are genuinely threatened by him – women, people of colour, immigrants, populating the halls of decision making, to bring the requisite and proportional sense of anger that would have been in the room when the suggestion to “hear me out, Sean Spicer, on SNL’s motorised podium” was made.

Stephen Colbert is woke enough to make a joke at Bill Maher’s use of the N-word, but not so much that he refused to share a stage with Spicer, who worked at the white supremacy head office.

This is the performative half-wokeness of the enablers who smugly have the optics of political correctness down, but never really internalised its values. The awkward knot at the heart of the Trump calamity is that of casual liberal complicity. The elephant in the room is the fact that the country is a most imperfect democracy, where people voted for Trump but the skew of power and capital in society, towards the male and the white and the immune, elevated him to the candidacy in the first place.

Yes he had the money, but throw in some star quality and a bit of novelty, and you’re all set. In a way what really is working against Hillary Clinton’s book tour, where some are constantly asking that she just go away, is that she’s old hat and kind of boring in a world where attention spans are the length of another ridiculous Trump tweet.

Preaching the merits of competence and centrism in a pantsuit? Yawn. You’re competing for attention with a White House that is a revolving door of volatile man-children. Trump just retweeted a video mock up where he knocks you over with a golf ball, Hillary. What have you got to say about that? Bet you haven’t got a nifty Vaclav Havel quote to cover this political badinage.

This is how Trump continues to hold the political culture of the country hostage, by being ultra-present and yet also totally irrelevant to the more prosaic business of nation building. It is a hack that goes to the heart of, as Hillary's new book puts it, What Happened.

The Trump phenomenon is hardwired into the American DNA. Once your name becomes recognisable you’re a Name. Once you’ve done a thing you are a Thing. It doesn’t matter what you’re known for or what you’ve done.

It is the utter complacency of the establishment and its pathetic default setting that is in thrall to any mediocre male who, down to a combination of privilege and happenstance, ended up with some media profile. That is the currency that got Trump into the White House, and it is the currency that will keep him there. As Spicer’s Emmy celebration proves, What Happened is still happening.