With her over-the-top hat, her over-the-top output and her obsession with combing the food market for any overripe fruit that vendors might have discarded, author Amélie Nothomb described the culture shock that she experienced while working for a Japanese company in Fear and Trembling. Nothomb’s amusing account springs to mind when you hear Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez refer to recent news about former King Juan Carlos’ shady business dealings as “upsetting and disturbing”. The only difference between the Spanish leader’s feelings and Nothomb’s is that the writer’s stupefaction seems more genuine than Sánchez’s, who feigned surprise at the newspaper reports that exposed the Spanish royal family’s Swiss bank accounts.
The columns that support the frieze of the 1978 Constitution have been showing some cracks for a while, with no remedy in sight that can stop them spreading. It is not because it is impossible to amend the Constitution and adapt it to the reality of the 21st century. Rather, it is due to a persistent historic inability to analyse reality without self-deceit, whilst embracing dialogue and democratic majorities as the only method to agree on whatever set of rules of coexistence Spaniards might choose to embrace. This malady is not only down to the State or today’s current affairs, but also to the way in which Spain has historically gone about things, in what appears to be an endless loop.
Following the ostrich politics of Mariano Rajoy’s administration —hiding behind the skirt of the Constitutional Court and the police crackdown in Catalonia, whilst ignoring the monarchy’s crisis—, Spanish society could face a re-founding moment courtesy of the PSOE-Podemos coalition government, or it could default to the usual state pact between the political parties and the regime-friendly media that would simply apply a lick of paint onto the rot.
At present Spain is facing extremely serious problems of a territorial, economic and institutional nature which have driven the last nail in the coffin of those who, during the political transition after General Franco’s death, aimed to turn Spain into a modern, European, wealthy country. In the coming months we shall see whether the new political generation is in a position to take a leap forward or is lured into an entente with the rot.
A BOURBON KING THROUGH AND THROUGH
This was a time that called for courage and dialogue to deal with the Covid crisis, the territorial crisis and the institutional crisis triggered by the shenanigans of Juan Carlos, a king who has turned out to be a Bourbon through and through. So far, the PSOE’s thirst for reform and their republican values are nowhere to be seen when it comes to keeping the monarchy in check. Over the last few weeks the incumbent king and the Spanish government have been trying to build a firewall to separate the reign of Juan Carlos from that of his son and successor, King Felipe, the current head of State. To be fair, Juan Carlos’ downfall has merely followed in the footsteps of earlier Bourbon monarchs, with a long string of revelations that include a multi-million slush fund provided by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, a foundation set up to manage Juan Carlos’ hyperactive Swiss bank account and to ensure it remained under the radar of the Spanish treasury, plus a €64.8m transfer to his mistress shortly after fleeing Spain following an accident during a hunting trip in Africa which the couple went on amid the recession.
RESPONSIBILITY AND REFERENDUM
The scandal exposed by the Swiss Prosecutor is of such magnitude that King Felipe is attempting to prevent the withering of the institution and the head of State by having the Supreme Court’s Prosecutor take action in the matter, going on a PR tour across Spain and formally distancing himself from his father. These rough-and-ready measures come as the public opinion appears increasingly divided, although we haven’t seen any approval ratings for the monarch since Spain’s government pollster stopped asking about the royals when their popularity took a dive following the Noos graft scandal.
Nowadays Spaniards are more or less evenly split down the middle on the monarchy vs republic issue, with the country’s periphery showing the strongest anti-monarchy feelings. King Felipe and his wife, Leticia, parade themselves across Spain, having ice-cream and greeting beach-goers. Pedro Sánchez has admitted that the monarch’s full immunity should be reviewed. But that is not enough. The Spanish government and the monarchy should accept that the only way to restore the institution’s credibility is by putting an end to the king’s total immunity and holding a referendum on the issue of monarchy vs republic. Anything short of that would be, once again in Spanish history, Bourbon-style sleight of hand. The Catalan government polls indicate that support for a republic is even greater in Catalonia: 70 per cent (versus 50 per cent in Spain overall). This is hardly surprising if you recall the king’s speech on 3 October 2017, two days after the referendum on independence, when the Spanish monarch chose to address the powers-that-be and the essence of the State, ignoring the citizens who remained in shock after the police violence that aimed to stop the independence vote in Catalonia. King Felipe made a grave mistake that day: he treated free citizens as if they were his subjects.