Today, King Juan Carlos I of Spain delivered documents to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy abdicating his throne to make way for his successor, his son Felipe (Philip) VI. In accordance with the Spanish constitution a vote in parliament will complete the process of ending the King’s 39 year reign and ushering in a new generation of royal authority with his successor Philip.
According to Spanish newspapers ABC and ElPais, the abdication of Juan Carlos does matter on a number of levels – most important is his leadership during Spain’s transition from a dictatorship to a democracy and modern economy.
He issued his reasons today in a document he presented to the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. He listed several reasons, but the one that stands out is his desire to see his son take the reins in this challenging time in Spanish history. He stated that “A new generation claims the title role with renewed intensity to meet the challenges…” (“Una nueva generación reclama el papel protagonista para afrontar con renovada intensidad los desafíos…”).
Recent illness has plagued the King with multiple hip operations in the last two years, but he denies that his health is a major issue. He apparently made his decision to abdicate on January 5, 2014 – his 76th birthday. He notified the Prime Minister in March, but it was kept secret until today.
Since the financial bank fiasco in Spain reared its ugly head, the continued economic recession/depression demonstrates itself with about a 25% unemployment rate. In the last few years, the royal family has received more criticism from the general populace. It has appeared to be out of touch with the current economic and political realities.
For example, it was publicized that Juan Carlos went on an African safari in 2012 while many of the population was struggling economically.
Adding insult to injury, his second child, Cristina, 4th in line to the throne, has been investigated as a result of her husband’s financial dealings. It was the first time that a member of the royal family showed up in a court of law to answer questions about their actions. If you like royal scandals you can read more here.
The successor to the Spanish throne is the King’s third child and only son Felipe VI. He was born on January 30, 1968. His full name is Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbón y Grecia. His royal title is Prince of Asturias, and he is also Prince of Girona and Prince of Viana.
Philip appears to have support by about 2/3 of Spanish citizens according to a recent poll. He seems to be ready, willing and most importantly able to take the reins of the duties of the King of Spain. The very tall (6’5”) Philip has two daughters and is married to a “commoner” and ex-TV anchorwoman, Princess Letizia Ortiz. She’s proved to be an asset to her husband Philip and to the royal family.
Philip has his work cut out for him. The Spanish economy is still in the dumps although slight improvement is on the horizon. The economic and social pressure on Spanish families has been great. Many recent graduates from all disciplines have been finding it necessary to move back in with their parents because there are few jobs. Even manual labor jobs that in the past were considered undesirable have more than enough applicants to the fill the few jobs that remain.
So why should we care about Spanish royalty? As in England, the royal family plays an important part in the country’s political, social, and cultural institutions. However in Spain, the King plays a pivotal role in providing cohesiveness among the many fractured parties. Juan Carlos has been instrumental during the last century by providing the stability needed to bring Spain into the family of democratically elected nations and modern economies.
In addition, Spain is still a gateway into Europe for many African immigrants- particularly Arab immigrants. Historically, Spain has played a role in assimilating these immigrants into European society. That’s a huge challenge to any country’s institutions and economy.
Although Juan Carlos was appointed by the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 to succeed him, most Spaniards would agree that the King has done a very good job in helping Spain transition into a fully democratic government with a modern economy. It’s been over 20 years, but I remember Juan Carlos as a very strong, tall, and amiable person that I walked by one day in the Nettie Lee Benson Library at the University of Texas at Austin. The King was neatly dressed in a pressed white shirt with open collar and Khaki pants. He walked with a lightness that seemed very approachable and friendly to the staff.
Obviously time will tell how and when the Spanish economy will return to “normal.” Meanwhile, Philip will have to focus on his job of leading by example and providing stability and common sense to government and society as a whole. His challenge will be to build confidence among the populace that things will get better. He will be in the midst of a multitude of activities to insure that direction.
So now it’s Philip’s turn to make his mark and lead with example. Suffice it to say. Being a member of the royal family these days is not a “cake walk,” at least not in Spain – nor should it be.
To read more about the current events regarding the abdication read here.