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Home » Content » Jordi Canal and ‘The monarchy in the 21st century’: “Spain begins to be ‘felipista’”
The historian and professor reviews in a brief and agile essay what has meant for the Crown a change of century and a change in the ownership of the Head of State

06/21/2019 05:00 – Updated: 06/21/2019 10:58

It is recognized in article 1.3 of the Constitution, endorsed in December 1978, but this does not exempt the Crown from being the center of criticism of certain sectors of Spanish society. Attacks that have grown in recent years, when the well-known scandals of the end of the reign of Juan Carlos I – Corinna, Noos, Botswana – put in check – and almost come to checkmate – the monarchical institution, after years of silence and media favor.

The abandonment by the emeritus king of public life – withdrawal announced at the end of last May and culminating in a process initiated with his abdication in 2014 – has ceded almost all the prominence to his son Felipe VI and has focused the debate in the future of the institution, anachronistic for some and guarantor of the unity of Spain for others, especially after the Catalan independence challenge.

“Will Leonor I reign? Will Felipe VI be the last king of Spain?”, asks historian and professor Jordi Canal (Olot, 1964) in his short essay “The monarchy in the 21st century” (Turner), in which he reviews the life and work of Juan Carlos de Borbón and analyzes what the turn of a century and the change in the leadership of the royal house have meant for the Crown. If the monarchy wants to survive, says Canal, it will have to bet on exemplarity and transparency.

QUESTION: I turn the slogan into a question: Will Spain tomorrow be republican?

ANSWER: I think it is very difficult for Spain to be republican in the short or medium term, unless something very serious happens that would substantially alter the political, institutional and economic life of the country.

Republican experiences have not been very good in Spain. And the support of republicanism at the political level, which are mainly Podemos and the Catalan pro-independence sectors, are weaker electorally than at other times. Although the position contrary to the monarchy on the part of both is not so much a commitment to republicanism but an attack on the Crown as a way to attack the system.

The monarchy of Felipe VI has learned from the mistakes made between 2010 and 2014, in the last years of his father’s reign. I think they are errors of lack of attention, perhaps thinking that the monarchy was something totally consolidated or that we continued in the twentieth century. Some of the scandals of this period had already happened before (lovers, hunting …), what happened this time was that Spain and public opinion had changed.

Q: Did Felipe VI know how to counteract the mistakes of his father’s last years?

A: Yes, he has learned from them and the Crown has adapted to the 21st century: he is exemplary, brings new ways of doing, is transparent and he has not made political mistakes, while Spain has been recovering from the crisis. If something does not happen that totally changes life in the country, I do not believe that Spain ceases to be a monarchy.

Q: Does the monarchy have an expiration date?

A: I think not necessarily. It depends on the general circumstances and how is the monarchy we are talking about, The parliamentary monarchy we have in Spain must be legitimized every day. Unlike countries like the United Kingdom, in Spain the monarchical tradition of the twentieth century was interrupted. That is why it was said for many years, when Juan Carlos was already king, that in Spain there were no monarchists but ‘juancarlistas’.

Q: And what about Felipe? On June 19, 5 years of Philip VI as king have been completed. Is Spain ‘felipista’?

A: I think Spain is beginning to be ‘felipista’. The changes during these five years of Felipe’s reign begin to be valued, little by little, by the Spaniards. Two key interventions by Felipe VI must be highlighted: his work when there was no way to elect a president of government for 300 days – when the king had an impeccably constitutional performance – and his speech on October 3 after the Catalan independence referendum.

The pro-Independence sector knows that the King and the unity of Spain go together

While it is true that he bothered the Catalan pro-independence side, they had decided before to declare war on the king. On that occasion, it became clear that the king is, as the Constitution says, a symbol of the unity of Spain ensuring the proper functioning of the institutions. When these do not work, you have to intervene, as happened on October 3.

Q: As a Catalan, how do you think the independence challenge has affected the future of the monarchy? Some say that the speech of 3-O makes the Crown irreconcilable with half of Catalonia…

A: What this almost half of pro-independence Catalans did, even before October 3, is to declare itself incompatible with Spain. On that date what happens is that the break is visible, but before they had already broken with the monarchy. And they did it because the 1978 Constitution attributes to the King the work of being a symbol and pillar of the nation. For these pro-independence cohorts, the only way to pursue independence is to go towards a republican independence, because the King and the unity of Spain go together, so to speak.

These attacks on the king had begun long ago, with the burning of photos, for example. I also believe that the pro-independence guys attack the king at that time taking advantage of the crisis unleashed in the monarchy. They believe that if they hit this pillar hard, they will sink the system, because they know that Spain, its democracy and the Constitution are totally linked to the monarchy.

Q: The badly-called “regime of 78″…

A: Exactly. The two big blocks that criticize the monarchy, Podemos and the pro-independence parties, are the ones that most question the “regime of 78”. Their attacks on the monarchy are an attempt to wear down the state.

Some say that our monarchy is expensive; to the French their Republic cost 13 times more.

In the case of Podemos, they know that the monarchy is one of the strong elements of that “regime of 78”. Echenique or Iglesias, more before than nowadays, have more of symbolic discourse than of arguments; they tell us that the monarchy is expensive, that there are hardly any monarchies in the world, that it is not democratic… Things that, beyond the slogans, do not hold in practice.

Q: “The referendum of the Constitution, held on December 6, 1978, was not a juncture between monarchy and republic but between dictatorship and democracy” as you say in your book. Is it logical that there would be, now that Spain is already a democracy with full guarantees, a referendum deciding on the model for the head of State?

A: In 1978, putting the monarchy on the table was not relevant; even the Communist Party of Santiago Carrillo saw it. The civil war and Franco were still recent. It is not that in the Transition there was an imposed amnesia, as some say, but that, as Santos Juliá affirms, one tries to “throw things away”. And that does not mean forgetting; On the contrary, there is a lot of memory in the Transition. All this, together with the good performance of Juan Carlos I, means that this era ends with a consolidated monarchy, inseparable of the return of democracy to Spain. Gallup polls in those years reflect that support for a referendum between monarchy and republic was below 10%.

Connecting with youth is the great pending issue of the monarchy and one of the keys to its permanence

Moving to the present, I believe that no debate can be avoided. If we debate between monarchy and republic, we should do so with minimal guarantees of seriousness and responsibility, not with short-term and attempts to undermine the system. Some say that our monarchy is expensive; to the French people their Republic cost 13 times more. Right now it would not be the moment, because Spanish life is very tense, but it can be an argument for tomorrow if things get better.

Q: “The inevitable passage of time has turned young people into little sensitive or ignorant, at a time of interested questioning of the Transition, of the role of the monarch in the construction of democracy in Spain”, as you say in your book. How could the monarchy improve its image and link with the new generations? Not long ago, several university referendums were held against the Crown…

A: I believe that this is the great pending issue that the monarchy has ahead and perhaps one of the keys to its permanence. There has been a lack of pedagogy, at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, in schools, just to explain democracy, the Constitution and the parliamentary monarchy to the new generations. Maybe we die of success; we thought it was all consolidated and it wasn’t..

Q: Can you think of how to remedy it?

A: The Crown must make a supplementary effort to prove that it is a 21st century monarchy. It is seen, in the speeches and in its decisions, that it is trying. What the monarchy has to do, with the young and with the not-so-young, is to be exemplary and useful. That is done in practice: touring the territory, having more presence.

Another issue that seems important to me is that today’s press has a tendency to worry about the monarchy as a kind of representation – what hairstyle does the Queen wear, if she has bought her clothes in Zara…- instead of showing what the monarchs do day to day.

Q: 15 years of marriage of the Kings have just been completed. How do you rate the role of Queen Letizia? What has this ‘plebeianization’ of the Crown supposed?

A: It has meant getting on the same line as the rest of the European monarchies, which have also been ‘plebeianized’. It has been necessary for the monarchy to enter the 21st century. I appreciate her coming into the Royal House because it has given a touch of modernity, which the monarchy needed. Felipe VI maintains the tradition – the Crown must do it – but he has been able to match it with modernity.

Q: Should the Constitution be amended to guarantee the same conditions for men and women for access to the throne?

A: Ideally, that article should not be in the Constitution, but it must be understood that it is because of the situation that was experienced in 1978. Now it has no meaning, but also no effect as long as the Kings do not have a child. There is no immediate conflict, so it is necessary to assess whether it is worthwhile to reform the Constitution, at this time, just for this matter. Maybe it’s not the best time now; when you open the Constitution you don’t know how you are going to close it. Spanish life is not today in a good position to trust the responsibility of certain political groups.

Q: How do you rate the recent withdrawal of the emeritus king from public life?

A: As an element of normality. Since his abdication in 2014, what became important was the consolidation of the new monarch, which the father king helped. These 5 years have shown that Felipe VI is able to carry out the Crown and, therefore, the presence in the front line of Juan Carlos is not essential.

Q: Imagine Spain in 30 or 40 years and complete the headline: “The Spanish monarchy…”

A: … that contributed decisively to the return of democracy remains today a fundamental element for its existence and its development”.

Q: Can you imagine it with Leonor I as queen?

A: If nothing serious enough happens to disrupt everything, the Spanish monarchy is today a monarchy with a future.


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