News - June 5, 2014

King Juan Carlos abdicates

Nicolette Meerstadt

In the news: King Juan Carlos of Spain is abdicating after 40 years on the throne. In the 1970s he openly supported the dictatorship of Franco, who named the then prince as his successor. But after Franco’s death the new king led democratic reforms. Now he is abdicating, he will be succeeded by his son Felipe.

Commentary by Maria Jose Rodes, Erasmus student of Economics and Finance, from Madrid.

‘A monarchy is an old-fashioned system that has no place on a democratic society. The idea of people having these kinds of privileges on the basis of their family is out of date. Not everyone will think this way, but I do, and so do many of my friends.
Before this king came to the throne, we had a dictatorship. The story goes that he changed the system, and if that is the case we should be eternally grateful to him. But there are a lot of other stories in circulation as well, and it is not at all clear whether he supported those reforms.
In 1978, a referendum was held on the question of who should be the head of state. The people who voted then are now all over 52. Juan Carlos’s abdication is an obvious opportunity to put that question to the people once again. To me, the role of the king is not clear. He has a symbolic role and gets state funding. But an elected person could fulfill his tasks just as well. The love for the royal family that you see here in the Netherlands, on King’s Day and the like, is unknown in Spain.

I recently filled in a questionnaire by the online newspaper El Diario. Of the 9000 respondents, 98 percent were in favour of a referendum. Of course, El Diario is a ‘leftwing’ medium, but it is still a lot. But I don’t think there will be a referendum, because the government is conservative. Pity, because it is time for change in Spain. Everything is going wrong because of the crisis: there are cuts in education, health care and research; people are being kicked out of their homes, and people with a higher education are leaving the country en masse. These are the sorts of problems that concern us. In the big cities, people take to the streets to protest against the monarchy. My friends are among them, and if I were in Spain I would be standing there too.’