Prince Philip VI of Spain, or ‘Felipe Sexto’ in Spanish, knows that in taking over as head of state from his father Juan Carlos I he shoulders the weight of a modern constitutional monarchy in trouble. The king’s eldest son, at 46, has trained for this his whole life.
Felipe said: “Allow me to reiterate in public how committed I am, and my conviction, to dedicate all my strength, with hope and enthusiasm, to the passionate task of continuing to serve the Spanish people and our dear Spain.”
But the monarchy has been tarnished by scandals. Republicans are demanding a referendum on the country’s future. Catalonia wants to become independent. The king’s key role is to ensure the unity of Spain. His father did it, but then his reputation suffered. Hence the premature transfer of the throne.
Felipe, with two daughters of his own with the respected former award-winning news television journalist Letizia Ortiz, who had no previous ties to Spain’s royals, enjoys a more modern profile than Juan Carlos, who grew up in the shadow of Spanish dictator Franco.
Juan Carlos was loved for helping to anchor Spain on its transition to democracy. But many Spaniards today question what the country needs a monarch for now.
Corruption investigations involving one of Felipe’s sisters sowed moral confusion. Felipe was not implicated in any way. Neither did his image suffer from his father’s elephant-hunting junket to Botswana, while ordinary Spaniards felt the bite of austerity, unemployment and dispossession of their homes.
Felipe was born in the knowledge that the post-Franco constitution said he would inherit the throne. But no one could know the circumstances, or that more and more Spaniards would be calling for modernising the constitution again.
Mario Alfaro, euronews: “To analyse the replacement in the Spanish monarchy and the challenges awaiting the future king Felipe VI, we’re joined from Madrid by Fernando Vallespín, a political science professor. In his abdication announcement, King Juan Carlos said he was making space for a new generation. Does his replacement represent a real change for Spanish society?”
Professor Fernando Vallespín: “Yes, I think it’s not just a symbolic change. The context is political reality. Juan Carlos underscored two ideas: stability and renewal. That is now what is expected. There is also a will toward reform. This will undoubtedly result in amendments to the constitution. Spain is seeing its democratic model lose some of its vigour, the model that began in 1978, strongly influenced by the newness of democracy then. Now, the country is facing up to other major political challenges. The most important is the territorial reorganisation of the state.”
euronews: “Various groups of society have asked for a referendum about what form the state should take. And yet it’s been only two weeks since the king’s announcement that he’ll hand over to Felipe. Is there an attempt to avoid a republic or monarchy debate?”
Vallespín: “I think the debate was cut short because things were done according to what’s in the constitution. More than 80 percent of the Spanish lower house of parliament went along with that. Institutionally, we can say the constitution has been respected where the royal succession is concerned. Then there’s what’s happening in Spanish society. Several parts of it are not necessarily pro-monarchy. Some of them are clearly republicans, and they are putting on pressure to hold a referendum.”
euronews: “With all the scandals in the last few years, the monarchy lost popularity. What should the new king do to recover people’s confidence?”
Vallespín: “The economic crisis in Spain tore away at trust in politics, not only in the politicians but in the institutions. These have to be brought up to date. All that has had an impact on the crown, of course — and especially certain aspects of it, such as wanting more openness, a crown more attentive to the people’s needs, and, above all, a crown under budgetary surveillance by the other institutions of state, such as parliament.”
euronews: “How could the new king help to reform the constitution, with regard to the territorial problem?”
Vallespín: “He could help with the negotiations between the different political forces. He could play a moderating role. We need that more than ever. He could facilitate an agreement between the various political forces.”