Less than a week after he announced his decision to leave Spain, King Juan Carlos is all the country wants to talk about. The former monarch announced he was going into exile on August 3rd 2020, having already departed, quite possibly in the hope that by going he would take away some of the intense focus that has fallen on the country’s royal family in recent times because of allegations against him of financial misconduct. Reality has proved very different. Just five days on from his exile statement, Spain’s royals and their future remain an issue that dominates the country.
Firstly, the whereabouts of the King Emeritus continue to excite a huge amount of interest. The newspaper, ABC, reported on August 7th that Juan Carlos was in Abu Dhabi, staying at a luxury hotel. Another paper, El Mundo, had originally placed him in the Dominican Republic while a third, La Vanguardia, ended the week by asking if his final destination, for now, might well be New Zealand. Other media pointed to him returning to Estoril or Cascais in Portugal, where he spent part of his childhood in exile with his parents.
With no official announcement from the Royal Household or from the lawyers of Juan Carlos, finding the former monarch is close to a national pastime right now in Spain.
Then there’s the issue of whether he will ever return. In his letter to King Felipe, Juan Carlos said he was leaving Spain for the present time. There has been speculation that by leaving he has ensured he will never face any potential charges. The King Emeritus has said he will give his full co-operation to all investigations. It’s also been reported that he’s told friends he could well return to Spain this year, perhaps as early as September.
Meanwhile, his exile has dominated the country he once ruled for the best part of a week. There is anger, with some areas debating whether to remove his name from streets and squares. There is confusion, as his location and intentions remain obscured. And there is political fallout, with continued calls for a debate on the very future of the monarchy itself.
And that has turned into another part of the whole story of the king who ended up in exile. Before he went, the financial allegations surrounding King Juan Carlos had caused problems for the Royal Family. In March, Felipe VI had renounced his personal inheritance from his father and cut his allowances. However, as controversy continued, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, took the unusual step of criticising the royals when he described the allegations as ”disturbing”.
Since Juan Carlos went, Pedro Sanchez has spoken of supporting the monarchy as an institution. However, his partners in his coalition government, Unidas Podemos, say the decision to allow the former monarch to go into exile was taken without their involvement. They have long campaigned for an end to the monarchy in Spain. Their leader, Pablo Iglesias, described the exile as an ”undignified act” which ”leaves the monarchy in a very compromising position.”
They aren’t the only party focusing on the future of the throne. In Catalonia, the parliament made the monarchy a focus of debate on August 6th and passed a non binding motion which denied recognition to Felipe VI as king. Quim Torra, President of the Government of Catalonia, said ”neither Spaniards nor Catalans deserve such a loud and ridiculous scandal on an international scale.”
King Felipe VI is now in Mallorca for the traditional Spanish royal holiday there, a custom begun by Juan Carlos and which saw the Borbons welcome endless famous faces in less troubling summers. Now, all eyes are on Felipe who will be seen in public with Pedro Sanchez for the first time since the exile announcement when the two men meet at Marivent this coming week.
The other striking fact from this past week is the widespread regard in which Felipe is held. Praise for his stewardship of the monarchy has been noticeable even while criticism of it as an institution has got louder.
However, he heads into his holidays with calls for more details of the exile of his father and comments from politicians that the debate on the monarchy will continue. A week that may have been intended to ease the pressures on Spain’s crown has turned into the most turbulent it has known in years.