The risk of a Bourbon king acting up

The risk of a Bourbon king acting up / MARI FOUZ

Justice Lesmes, the President of Spain’s General Council of the Judiciary, is on the money: having the Spanish king attend the yearly event where Spain’s newly-appointed judges are inducted is not a mere formality. King Felipe has been ignoring his constitutional role for some time now, either because he has been ill-advised or blinded by hubris and, in doing so, he has put the institution that he claims to defend in jeopardy. His mistakes date back to the beginning of his reign, when he abandoned the crown’s symbolic, moderating role, one that would guarantee the survival of the monarchy, and went on to become a source of institutional instability. On 3 October 2017 the Spanish king renounced the symbolic role and political neutrality granted to him by the Spanish Constitution [when he implicitly endorsed the Spanish police violence unleashed on hundreds of peaceful Catalan voters during the independece referendum two days earlier]. Now he has done it again by siding with the very elements of the judiciary that have smeared Spain’s justice system with their partisanship by doing the PP’s bidding and marching to the tune of their own quixotic arrogance.

King Felipe has changed the order of Article 117.1 of the Constitution, which states that “justice emanates from the people and is administered on behalf of the King” and he has forgotten that he is only supposed to provide a seal of approval, a stamp with no will of its own, only that of Spain’s democratically elected government: Article 56 states that the monarch’s actions will not be valid unless they have been countersigned by the executive branch.


When he told Justice Lesmes that he would have liked to attend the event held in Barcelona’s School of the Judiciary, Felipe knew that his words could be leaked —as they were, indeed— but didn’t bother to exercising a modicum of discretion. Likewise, José Antonio Ballestero —a member of the governing board of the General Council of the Judiciary— showed little restraint when he absurdly asked those present to join him in shouting “Long live the King” with “the utmost moderation and unshakeable conviction”. The newly-appointed magistrates, who will administer justice within a system that is all-too-often blatantly biased, gladly complied.

The conduct of their highest representatives —which they largely endorse— is seen by the junior judges as providing justification for the sort of politically motivated behaviour that would not be acceptable in neighbouring countries. It is one thing for the judiciary to appeal to the more conservative social strata for sociological reasons. But for it to be seized by reactionary forces is a different matter altogether.

At present a number of crises overlap in Spain, but they all have one thing in common: a disdain for reason, the inability to come up with a shared diagnostic that puts aside emotions and heartfelt convictions to advance and embrace the changes that would allow us to reconcile diverging views. Spain’s malaise stems from an inability to compromise, the notion that the exercise of power is akin to imposition and it is all about doing as you are told. In contrast, dialogue and agreement are viewed as capitulation. This exact same evil lies at the root of both Spain’s major public health emergency and the country’s institutional crisis.

As a result, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, Madrid’s regional president, chooses ideology over science to make public health decisions and governs Madrid like a black hole that siphons off funds from the rest of Spain, as if her authority extended beyond the boundaries of the Madrid region. The Spain within Spain absorbs all the resources and the ambitions of the Spanish right, which does not recognise the incumbent left-leaning coalition government as a legitimate one. The Spanish right has never engaged in parliamentary opposition, but democratic obstruction. To quote conservative daily ABC, “the Sánchez government poses an increasingly alarming threat to the continuity of constitutional Spain” and “[Podemos vice president] Iglesias is a sinister reminder of the Civil War”. Once again, the self-appointed guardians of the Constitution are actually behaving like its executioners.

A low profile

For his part, King Felipe should have grasped that his salvation hanged on keeping quiet and smiling where the government asked him to, until part of the general public had forgotten about his father’s alleged corruption and his humiliating flight from justice to a golden lair in a dodgy Gulf emirate, while his former lover keeps dropping nuggets of lethal information. King Felipe cannot compensate for his father’s scandals by leaning to the right, something that Juan Carlos avoided doing when he realised that the PSOE’s support was paramount to the survival of the Spanish monarchy.

King Felipe should have known to keep a low profile because challenging the government shatters his legitimacy and cosying up to the Catholic church and Spain’s politicised judiciary means that most people won’t recognise him as a legitimate king.

Troublesome days lie ahead, with Catalan president Quim Torra likely to be disqualified by a court of law, as we wait for the ruling in the case of Josep Lluís Trapero, the former head of the Catalan police. We will see whether justice keeps to the path of discredit or it shows the dignity and the courage necessary to face no less than a trial of the facts.

EDICIÓ PAPER 28/11/2020

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