For those who really care about the Monarchy … worrying … really worrying.
|“This is a deep-rooted crisis that will have much wider repercussions"|
King Juan Carlos' annus horribilis
- June 3, 2011. The king undergoes an operation on his right knee. The Zarzuela Palace says he has difficulties walking.
- June 4. Juan Carlos has another operation, this time on the Achilles' tendon of his left foot. The media were not informed until after surgery.
- October 26. For the first time, the king's popularity falls to below 50 percent.
- November 2011. The police search the offices of the Nóos Foundation, of which Iñaki Urdangarin, the king's son-in-law, was president.
- December 12. The Royal Household excludes Urdangarin and Princess Cristina from official acts.
- December 24. In his Christmas speech, the king refers to the Urdangarin crisis, saying "we are all equal before the law."
- December 27. Congress gives the king a standing ovation at the opening of the Lower House' 10th legislature.
- December 28. The Zarzuela Palace publishes the Royal Household's accounts.
- December 29. The courts publish details of the investigation into Urdangarin's business activities.
- February 25, 2012. Urdangarin appears before an investigating magistrate.
- March 20. The king meets with the country's business leaders at the Zarzuela Palace to encourage them to "put their shoulders to the wheel" and create jobs.
- April 14. He undergoes another operation, this time for a fractured hip after falling while on a hunting trip to Botswana.
- April 25. The king receives further surgery to correct his prior hip replacement operation.
|“Any loss of prestige could reduce his ability to open doors for Spanish firms.”|
King Juan Carlos has apologized following an accident while on a private hunting trip in Botswana.
The gravity of the situation
It has been a tough year for King Juan Carlos, with corruption scandals involving his son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarin, health issues, and now an unprecedentedly hostile ride from the media over his Botswana hunting accident
CARLOS E. CUÉ 3 MAY 2012 in El Pais in English / http://elpais.com/elpais/2012/05/03/inenglish/1336057066_975482.html
King Juan Carlos has apologized following an accident while on a private hunting trip in Botswana. Monarchs seldom give accounts of their private activities, and much less apologize, so while his unprecedented act of contrition may have helped assuage a populace angered by their head of state nipping off to shoot elephants while they have to deal with the toughest austerity cuts in living memory, it has also prompted many politicians and commentators to ask privately whether the time has come for the 74-year-old, who faces health problems, to stand down.
Sources close to the Royal Household say Juan Carlos was shaken by the media and public's response to his accident. After all, the trip was a private affair, and was meant to be kept that way. Recent proposals for legislation to improve transparency in Spanish political life will not include the Royal Household. When told that the king was off to Botswana to kill wild animals at the invitation of an unnamed multi-millionaire, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, like his predecessors before him, raised no objections.
But in reality, under Spain's arrangements governing its constitutional monarchy, the government is supposed to oversee the king's activities, whether private hunting trips or public engagements. The prime minister has said that from now on, he will be coordinating more closely with the king.
The Royal Household was also embarrassed earlier this month when the king's 13-year-old grandson Felipe Juan Froilán, son of the Infanta Elena, literally shot himself in the foot while using a gun below the legal age.
The incidents have sparked unprecedented criticism of the royals in a country where the press has traditionally treated the House of Bourbon with kid gloves, avoiding British-style reporting on their private lives, even when foreign magazines have run stories on the king's alleged lovers.
The accident was initially kept secret for 36 hours, until finally, when Juan Carlos had returned home and was about to undergo an operation on his hip, a brief press note was released. Any hopes that the affair would pass unnoticed soon proved ingenuous. The media seized on the key points - luxury safari, Botswana, hunting elephants at 15,000 euros a pop - and even dug up a photo from a previous excursion there showing the hapless monarch standing somewhat stiffly before a magnificent pachyderm that he had just pumped full of lead slumped head first against a tree. And all this in a week when Spain's borrowing rates went through the roof, and of course not long after the king, the honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund, had expressed his concern about the country's 50 percent unemployment rate among young people and called on the business community to put its shoulder to the wheel. Talk about the perfect storm.
The king and his advisors could do nothing as the taboo of respecting what the monarch does in his private life was broken once and for all. Over the following five days, as he recovered in hospital and the domestic, and then the international media, indulged in a feeding frenzy of hunting- and firearms-related headlines he came to the conclusion that either he fessed up, or he was finished, a figure of ridicule. Because there was no way the two main parties could continue to support him otherwise. So, as he hobbled out of hospital, a weary looking Juan Carlos spoke to the media: "I am very sorry. I was wrong, and it won't happen again."
The king's supporters like to say that he has always been able to gauge the mood of his subjects, which explains his popularity after 36 years on the throne. Bearing in mind that in October 2011 his popularity fell for the first time to below 50 percent, and that support among those under 35 years old has been declining steadily for 20 years - a drop that will probably accelerate as the scandal involving his son-in-law's business dealings continues - it is puzzling that he failed to foresee the likely consequences of his African sojourn.
Sources close to the Royal Household say that the king is less and less interested in affairs of state, and that he is tired. In May 2010, surgeons removed a tumor from his lung. Last year he underwent two more operations, on his knee and ankle. In 2010 he sent Prince Felipe to attend the final of the World Cup in South Africa, making it clear that from now on he would be spending more time on leisure activities.
At the same time, he has made it equally clear that he has no intention of standing aside to let Felipe take over. After his post-accident request for forgiveness, the king noted: "I am very well, and looking forward to returning to my obligations," among which is a weekly meeting with the prime minister, which was duly held.
"If the king decides to abdicate, it would be due to illness, and certainly wouldn't be in response to a perceived crisis, or a scandal, or outside pressure. Apart from anything else, abdicating under those circumstances would contaminate Felipe's succession," says a senior figure in the Popular Party.
That said, Felipe has been taking on a more public role in recent years, for example, attending presidential inaugurations in Latin America, a policy that is eroding the influence that the king once exercised in the region.
A new generation of leaders is emerging in Latin America that barely knows the king, and has little reason to respect him. The famous incident in 2007 when he told Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to "shut up" may have raised smiles at home and in Europe and the United States, but failed to amuse the region's leaders, who are increasingly distanced from what was once the motherland. Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's joke about the similarity between the country's oil output curve and that of an elephant's trunk was a less-than-subtle hint that the king should keep out of the decision to seize Repsol's stake in YPF. Juan Carlos was in Botswana when the oil firm was renationalized.
In the meantime, Prince Felipe is trying to forge links with the next generation of Spain's leaders, aware that his father's popularity was in large part due to the perceived role he played in protecting the country's transition to democracy. But Felipe is unlikely to be given the opportunity to defuse a military overthrow, as his father did in 1981.
As his father did before him, this will mean reaching out to politicians whose party affiliations put them on the side of the anti-monarchists, a policy that angers many on the right, who see Juan Carlos as too close to the Socialist Party already. The future of Felipe relies on the continued support of the Socialist Party; the minute it starts to wane, there will be no stopping a widespread debate on the future of the monarchy. Felipe is well aware of the activities of the pro-Republican movement, he knows which town halls are controlled by the Communist Party-led United Left, and he has personally met its leaders, as well as kept abreast of anti-monarchy groups within the Socialist Party. His is a very different approach to his father's hail-fellow-well-met line: he is respectful, professional, and attentive, but there is no backslapping.
The government and the PP's concern at the moment is disagreement between the moderate right and the monarchists. A recent article by the former editor of ABC by the monarchist newspaper's former editor, José Antonio Zarzalejos, upset the apple cart when it accused the king of having squandered his popularity and undermining the hard work of Prince Felipe.
The succession isn't the problem. For the moment, Prince Felipe is managing to protect his image. The problem is with the institution itself, and talking to Spain's politicians and royal pundits, the monarchy's image problem goes back much further than Juan Carlos' poorly timed trip to Botswana, which has been dubbed the "straw that broke the elephant's back" by some.
Far worse has been the damage caused by the media coverage of the investigation into one of Spain's most serious corruption cases, involving the king's son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin. While Juan Carlos was in hospital, emails were published showing that Juan Carlos himself had personally intervened on behalf of Urdangarin to the then head of the Valencian regional government, Francisco Camps, who himself had to step down as he faced trial over corruption allegations. When the Urdangarin case first broke at the end of last year, the king implemented a damage limitation exercise to exclude Urdangarin and Princess Cristina from official events, as well as announcing that the Royal Household's accounts would now be made public. The king also said that he had asked Urdangarin in 2006 to cease his business activities with the foundation at the center of the scandal. The meeting with Camps was subsequent to this.
The scandal shows no signs of going away any time soon. Urdangarin is now locked in a battle of mutual accusations with his business partner, Diego Torres, who is threatening to publish allegedly compromising emails and other documentation that supposedly shows the king's involvement in his son-in-law's nefarious activities. If such evidence exists, and it emerges, the monarchy could face a serious crisis.
One business leader puts it in the following terms: "Strangely enough, the uproar over the elephant shooting has distracted attention away from the Urdangarin affair. This, and the still considerable groundswell of support the king enjoys, has allowed him to carry on regardless, when it might reasonably be the moment to start thinking about other questions, such as the succession."
It's hard to assess how much damage the Urdangarin affair and the hunting trip have done to the king's popularity. But there is no denying that he remains an important asset for Spain. Not just because of his experience, but above all because of his international contacts, built up over the course of his almost four decades as head of state. He also enjoys close friendships with other monarchs, particularly in the Arab world, who control their countries' key businesses. Juan Carlos played an important role in helping the consortium of Spanish companies win the contract to build a high-speed train between the Saudi Arabian cities of Medina and Mecca, seeing off a bid backed personally by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. This kind of influence is rarely made public, but is well understood by politicians.
The head of one of Spain's largest corporations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says: "The country's most important business leaders often ask him to lend a hand in their overseas expansion, or in paving the way toward winning a big international contract. Any damage to his reputation will damage Spain's business interests. Obviously, this incident has created problems, but I don't think that it will affect his credibility, especially after he apologized, which is a very unusual thing to do."
Another business leader suggests that the king ought to "explain what he does" to the public. There is widespread concern that any loss of prestige could reduce his ability to open doors for Spain's businesses. All cite the Saudi contract, with some saying that the hunting trip was part of the behind-the-scenes protocol, involving senior Saudi figures. Others say he should have known better: "Especially after saying that he couldn't sleep at nights, and after having met with business leaders to encourage them to create jobs; then it emerges that he has gone on safari. It looks bad."
The gaffe couldn't have come at a worse time. Aside from the worsening economy, there is the regional question. The monarchy is not popular in the Basque Country or Catalonia, and with nationalist parties in control in Catalonia, and the possibility that next year a coalition between the Basque Nationalist Party and leftist pro-independence grouping Bildu could win power, is a cause for concern for the government.
Prince Felipe, who for the moment is standing in for the king at official acts, will experience the less-than-fond regard many in the Basque Country and Catalonia hold for the monarchy when he attends the final of the King's Cup on May 25 between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao.
Some observers say the pace of change in Spain has outrun the monarchy, pointing to the emergence of a generation now approaching middle age that doesn't take into account the king's perceived role in defending the country's democracy in the years after the death of Franco: for them, the failed coup of 1981 is ancient history. "If somebody had told you 15 years ago that there would be an institutional crisis because the king had gone elephant hunting in Spain, you wouldn't have believed them. He has always done as he thought best. I can remember many occasions when nobody knew where the king was. He hasn't changed, he might have slowed down a bit, but Spain has changed, and the powerful are under a lot more scrutiny than before," says one veteran politician.
"This reminds me of what happened in 1975, when Franco was dying, and the Moroccans decided to march into Western Sahara. When a country is seen abroad as weak, others will take advantage. This will affect our business dealings. The king has always been involved in representing Spain's economic interests, particularly regarding energy; you only have to look at the number of trips he has made to oil- and gas-producing nations. This is a deep-rooted crisis that will have much wider repercussions than you might initially think, and it should be resolved, one way or the other, as soon as possible," says another senior politician.
The king has said that "this won't happen again." He can be sure from now on that every move he makes will be under scrutiny. Some commentators have suggested that apologizing was a mistake, and that if he is seen to make another error of judgment, there will be no second chance. And recently, the king's sense of judgment has been under question. He more or less ordered the Queen to be quiet at an event earlier in the year, and then lost his temper with journalists who had accused him of exaggerating his health problems, saying: "You've got it in for me, you're always getting at me."
Those close to the king say that he is aware of the gravity of the situation, and will be listening more closely than has been the case recently to his advisors, even if he is not prepared to give up his private life. He now knows that the pact of silence that has protected him for the last 36 years has been definitively broken, at least as far as the Spanish public is concerned. There is no going back.
Spain's King Juan Carlos is engulfed in scandal
The once-popular king is losing public support even as he lies in a hospital bed. Some are talking of abdication
The Guardian, Monday 4 March 2013 / http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/04/spain-king-juan-carlos-scandal
The elderly man who sold me my apartment was clear about Spain's King Juan Carlos. "He is a traitor," he said.
That was more than a decade ago, and it was a shocking – almost blasphemous – thing to say. Only diehard republicans and even harder-headed former Francoists criticised the monarch. Heliodoro was one of the latter, an unreconstructed extremist who never forgave Juan Carlos for using the powers he received from General Francisco Franco in 1975 to usher in democracy. Few would have agreed.
These days, however, Madrid seethes with discontented talk about the monarchy. The upset is proportional to the awed respect once accorded by almost everyone, including journalists who decided Juan Carlos was untouchable after he stopped a coup when civil guardsmen stormed the parliament in 1981.
As the 75-year-old monarch lies in a hospital bed this week, recovering from his fourth operation in 10 months, there is talk of both abdication and of controlling his use of taxpayers' money. The king is not as weak in mind or body as Pope Benedict, but in Madrid there is also a feeling that an old institution needs shaking up – possibly with a new face.
How did it get to this? The hard-working king with the common touch was once Europe's most popular monarch – a virtuous contrast to Britain's distant and dysfunctional royals. I recall once getting lost and driving freely through the deer park surrounding his modest Madrid palace. The royal guards were completely unconcerned when I eventually reappeared in the wrong place.
Yet, as Spaniards endure double-dip recession, government austerity and 26% unemployment, royal privileges suddenly seem less understated. The king's luxuries are beginning to grate.
Reminders of the royal lifestyle were plastered all over newspapers again this week. Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a stylish 48-year-old who uses a German ex-husband's title to call herself "princess", gave several interviews about her relationship with the monarch. This, she assured doubting Spaniards, was purely professional. She complained, indeed, that his family scandals were now damaging her business as a go-between in deals involving companies and governments – including in the oil-rich Middle East. "This is doing a lot of damage to my professional reputation," she said.
Sayn-Wittgenstein's name first became public knowledge after she appeared as the mystery woman who travelled to Botswana when King Juan Carlos – then honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – secretly joined a free elephant hunt. His wife, Queen Sofia, was left behind. Sayn-Wittgenstein said she had travelled with another former husband, Briton Philip Atkins. She and the king were no more than "close friends", she told El Mundo , who had met nine years ago at the Duke of Westminster's Spanish hunting estate.
Spaniards only found out about the king's freebie after he tripped and broke his hip. The man who claimed he went to bed every night worrying about youth unemployment (currently at 55% among the under-25s) had to be flown home in a special aircraft and hospitalised. A chastened monarch gave an unprecedented apology. "I am very sorry," he said. "I made a mistake. It will not happen again." WWF members were not impressed. A few weeks later they sacked him.
Sayn-Wittgenstein's help did not stop at joining him on safari. She also tried, at the king's beckoning, to find his embattled son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, a job. Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball star who gained the title of Duke of Palma when he married Princess Cristina, is formally suspected of fraud, tax cheating and embezzlement. A court has told him and his business partner to post €8m (£6.9m) bail – though charges have not yet been presented. Now emails between Sayn-Wittgenstein and the royal son-in-law have begun to surface. "I was just trying to find him a suitable job," she said, claiming that she had also done secret, unpaid work for the Spanish government.
Urdangarin has become a toxic royal asset – as damaging to Juan Carlos as the hundreds of thousands of unsold new homes left behind by a burst construction bubble are to the economy. He allegedly hid behind supposedly not-for-profit organisations as he sweated the royal brand for money. This mostly came from rightwing politicians who paid generous sums of taxpayers' cash in return for proximity – and photo opportunities – with the royal son-in-law. Money was then allegedly siphoned to offshore accounts. Court documents leaked to the Cadena Ser radio station purport to show only 1.5% of the money passing through one foundation actually going to help disabled children.
Urdangarin denies wrongdoing and has tried to keep his wife – who sat on the board of one foundation – out of the picture, along with his father-in-law. "The king's household neither opined on, advised, authorised or backed my activities," he said in a statement. Many Spaniards do not believe him. A recent poll saw half say they thought Juan Carlos had helped his son-in-law land business deals. The vast majority said his wife must also have known.
Politicians have caught the popular mood. "From now on either the monarchy is transparent, or it may stop existing," said Carme Chacón, a potential future socialist candidate for prime minister.
And what about the king's reputation as a playboy? Attempts by two people claiming to be his illegitimate offspring to prove his paternity have stumbled across his status as a man who is, literally, above the law. A court threw out their writ on the basis of the king's legal "inviolability".
Juan Carlos's son and heir, Prince Felipe, has stepped up temporarily to represent his father. With the king, who has disc problems, out of action for up to six months, some think the change should be permanent. Pere Navarro, head of the Catalan socialist party, said: "We need a new head of state."
The palace recently took the unusual step of denying the abdication rumours. As the king lies in hospital, however, he may think there are more peaceful ways to see out his old age.