Spanish Monarchy: The abdication of King Juan Carlos raises Spaniards hopes up for a Republican Spain

After the delicate phase of transition from a dictatorship into a modern democracy, Spain is now facing a new crucial challenge for the future of its constitutional and political order: the abdication of King Juan Carlos. Appointed as the successor by the ‘Caudillo’ Franco in 1969 and initially considered as a puppet regime, this monarch paradoxically embodies the first attempt of Spain to come out from the Francoism.

Even if he inherited the dictator’s powers, he renounced to those and helped the country to end its isolation and to achieve its own position among Western democracies[1].

Moreover, Juan Carlo’s contribution to constitution in 1978, that allowed to legalize the transformation of Spain into a parliamentary monarchy, as well as his defense of the political system against the threat of a coup d’etat in 1981, were fundamental to increase the Spaniards’ support towards the crown.

However, after the consolidation of democracy, the media have progressively broken the secret pact made to protect the King from the public scrutiny. Therefore, the popular consensus on the Roman King[2] started to waver and the “tireless defender of Spain’s interests”[3] – so called by the Prime Minister Rajoy in the announcement made to press on the 2nd June 2014 – is now well known for the several scandals where he has been recently involved. Is still fresh the memory of his secret luxury trip to a safari in Botswana while Spain was on the edge of the economic collapse. In this occasion Juan Carlos, honorary President of WWF Spain, was caught hunting an elephant with a women who was not his wife. Eventually, this scandalous episode forced the King to utter a public apology to the Spanish People whose trust was already profoundly undermined.

The reputation of the royal family was further blemished by the accuses of corruption against the infant Cristina and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin. More specifically, the King’s son-in law is suspected of exploiting his connections to embezzle millions of Euros of public funds. As a consequence, Princess Cristina was the first royal to be heard in court since the restoration of monarchy in 1975.

The need for a “new era of hopes”[4] seems to emerge in a scenario of undeniable unpopularity for the King of Spain. Under these circumstances, Juan Carlos has no option but to take a step backward in favor of his still popular son Felipe, who is supposed to accede to the throne with the name of Felipe VI on 16th of June.

The gap of popularity between the father and the son already appeared in a recent poll conducted by El Mundo where almost two- third of Spaniards thought Juan Carlos should abdicate[5].

The man that once was seen as an emblem of the Spanish democracy is now considered as a part of that political establishment, guilty to have led the country into a disastrous economic situation. In fact the monarchy is not the only institution who has dramatically lost popular support. As European elections show, the popularity of the entire political class is now seriously decreasing. Although the parties representing the traditional bipartisanship left and right( the Pp and the Psoe) won the electoral competition, Spaniards seem to put their trust in emergent and unconventional political forces such as Podemos[6], able to express people’s discontent.

However, the departure of the Spanish sovereign does not sound as something new in the European political landscape. In fact, the renunciation of the throne by Juan Carlos has been the last sign of a recent pattern that is now concerning the European Crowns . First Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in April 2013 decides to give up her throne, followed a few months later by the King of Belgium Albert II. This pattern shows that abdication, seen as rare event in Europe, starts to become a more frequent and “normal” phenomenon[7].

Nonetheless, Spain lacks a precise law regulating abdication. Although the Constitution foresees this event, it is necessary to approve a specific legal provision to enable royal succession. Therefore, for the first time in the history of Spain the Council of Ministers approved on the 3rd of June a legislative decree in order to make official the change of the guard.

Concerning the legal status of Juan Carlos, he will legally remain the King until the proclamation of Felipe VI. It is still not certain if after the abdication the former monarch will continue to benefit of immunity from prosecution.

The approval of the abdication law by the Cortes Generales is highly expected since the governing party (Partido Popular) and the opposition one (Partido socialista obrero espanol), representing 90% of political forces in the Parliament, have promised their support to this provision.

Meanwhile the left wing coalition ( Izquierda Unida, Equo and Podemos) is demanding a referendum in order to let people choose between monarchy or republic.

Despite the manifestations in favor of popular consultation, the Prime Minister Rajoy expressed his disaccord, stating that a Republican form will be possible only through a change in the constitution and not by a referendum. If that is true, it is also important not to ignore the will of people, whose trust in politics has already been undermined. Approving a law without taking into consideration thousands of voices shouting for a public consultation could constitute the further evidence of a political class thoroughly alienated from Spaniards’ daily life.


Claudia Conticello

Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)

[1] Giles Tremlett, “King Juan Carlo’s reign in Spain ends amid falling popularity and bungling”, The Guardian, 2nd June 2014

[3] Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy praised King Juan Carlos as “the tireless defender of our interests” in the announcement to press made on Monday 2nd June 2014

[5] Ashifa Kassam, Juan Carlos abdication sparks calls for referendum on Spain’s monarchy, The Guardian, 2nd June 2014,

[6] Podemos is a new emergent party created in March 2014 by activists linked to the Movement “Indignados”.

[7] Ian Traynor , “Abdication in Europe: a change of thrones”, The Guardian, 2nd June 2014

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