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Felipe VI: renewal in a stormy decade

June 16, 2024

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Assumption of the Church |

Teacher of Constitutional Law

The ten years of Felipe VI's reign (2014-2024) will go down in history as a period of renewal in a context of prolonged crisis. The renewal of the institution began from the first speech of the King who, at the proclamation, spoke of a renewed monarchy. The reforms have fixed the code of conduct of the staff in the service of the King's Household, the rules on gifts to the Royal Family, the supervision of the economic activity before the Court of Auditors, the structure of the Royal Household and transparency, among other aspects. It has been a succession of provisions and decisions that have turned the institution around to adapt it to the 21st century. It has also sought to renew and bring the public image of the Royal Family closer.

But this decade has not been without its challenges and interlinked crises. Today they are the war conflicts in Europe and the Middle East and the very serious constitutional crisis in Spain, which has no precedent of such a marked and prolonged deterioration since the Constitution was approved. Felipe VI's last Christmas message warned of a critical outlook. It is convenient to rescue the speech and link it with that of the proclamation, as they contain the keys of the decade. In between we have gone through successive crises: the energy crisis derived from the war in Europe, the COVID pandemic and all its humanitarian, political, economic and social consequences, the independence process in Catalonia, which does not seem to be going to be closed with the controversial amnesty law. It is indisputable that its decisive speech of 3-O of 2017 put the brakes on the process and was the prelude to the application of art. 155 of the Constitution. With this, Corona was placed even more in the target of the independence movement, but not only. The 15-M movement and its political heirs had already stirred up a new republicanism in the last period of the reign of Juan Carlos I, favored by the effects of the family crises and the corruption scandals of the Noos case or the accusations that compromised the King Emeritus. The end of bipartisanship gave way to a parliamentary fragmentation and polarization that since 2015 hindered the training of Government, with long periods in office and successive calls for electoral processes. The role of the King in the proposal of candidate to the investiture became a lengthy and tortuous process, although well resolved by the Head of State, who was the factor of stability and neutrality.

It is well known that the monarchy is always highly sensitive to crises and at the same time a determining factor in their solution, but in its own way, acting within its margins as an integrating power and sticking to that role, without being able to ask of it what does not correspond to it constitutionally. Thus, it is striking that some voices have questioned the signature to the amnesty law -it must be remembered that its sanction and promulgation are a constitutional obligation-, as well as doubts as to the interpretation of its role in the proposal of the candidate to the Presidency of the Government and the computation of terms of art. 99 CE, or the scope of its function of speech. For those who do not want the unity of Spain, it will be an element to beat, but for others the risk is not knowing how far it can go. Here we can see a lack of culture regarding the institution.

Finally, to the above, we must add that Felipe VI has had to manage a very serious crisis in the extended royal family itself. He entered with the shadow of the Noos case and the clouds that then unleashed the storm on the activity of King Juan Carlos. Felipe VI has reacted with sharp and painful measures for him of institutional distance and staff, withdrawal of titles to his sister and Withdrawal to the inheritance of his father in March 2020, closure of the economic allocation and management of the departure from Spain of Juan Carlos I, as well as his absence in the oath of the Constitution before the Courts of Princess Leonor when she comes of age. This part of the decade, in which his institutional duty and the Crown have taken precedence over his affections, will undoubtedly have been the King's greatest personal sacrifices.

The combination of all the factors has led to the discussion on a law for the Crown or on the reduction of the inviolability. But any reform must be made prudently, anticipating all the consequences; it requires an adequate context, a constitutional pact and loyalty to preserve the Crown as a valuable piece of tradition, a defender of constitutional democracy, a factor of stability and moderation and a sure value in international relations at a particularly complex time.

After this renewing and stormy decade, we must justly congratulate and recognize the role of Felipe VI and wish him all the best, so that these stormy times will give way to better times.