Madrid’s mayor called on its residents to decorate their balconies with the flag to show support for the new King. A few in my neighborhood did, but most balconies went unadorned.
His new Majesty looked happy at the brief, “austere” ceremony, but that probably won’t last long. He’s already been called a dynamic force, a hope, fresh air – and a scapegoat.
These days all institutions have lost prestige, and the Crown has long been associated with the Catholic Church and politicians. Both poll poorly in Spain. Felipe left out a Bible, crucifix, and Mass from his proclamation, but he’s stuck with politicians.
The Constitution specifies (Article 64): “The acts of the King shall be approved [refrendados] by the Prime Minister of the government and, as necessary, by the appropriate ministers.” They even approve his speeches, which is probably why his and his father’s have always avoided controversy and the merest hint of inspired rhetoric. We don’t even know what Felipe really thinks.
Felipe could be a superman – he received excellent preparation for his new job – but he’s wrapped in Kryptonite chains. He’s subject to politicians who at best achieve mediocrity. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy earns a confidence rating of 23%, while Felipe got 58% right after taking the throne.
A lot must be done:
• Revitalize Spain’s political institutions. If the United States were like Spain, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would have hand-picked the candidates for Congress and Senate for their parties – no primaries, just backroom deals. Obama and Romney would pick their successors. This has been going on in Spain for decades: Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed at all levels of government. Corruption is rampant, and no one in office, from municipalities to the Prime Minister, has to care about what citizens think or want.
Not one word about corruption appeared in Felipe’s speech at his proclamation.
Articles by my friends Alana Moceri and Fernando Betancor get a little deeper into Spain’s problems with democracy.
• Revitalize the economy. Between 2007 and 2011, the poorest Spaniards lost 42.4% of their income and now earn €2,685 per year, while the richest 10% saw a 5.6% decrease, and the top 1% lost hardly anything, according to the OECD. This was the largest increase in inequality among the world’s 30 most advanced countries. Unemployment is still around 25%. The one thing that could save the economy in the long run is education, which is systematically being undercut both in finances and policy.
The word “unemployment” did not appear in Felipe’s proclamation speech.
• Negotiate a solution to the Catalonia independence movement. A survey taken right after Felipe’s proclamation found that 90% of respondents agreed that “what is really urgent now is to have the different political powers engage in dialogue and search for pacts and agreements to solve the country’s current problems.” They want him to intervene to persuade politicians to sit down and talk about this and other issues. But Prime Minister Rajoy has expressed reticence to the King’s involvement.
• Reform the Constitution. Properly done, this could solve many problems and serve as a “Second Transition.” Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos, guided the country through the Transition from the Franco dictatorship to democracy 39 years ago. Juan Carlos could make things happen back then because he had real power until he had a Constitution written and placed himself under it. Now the King is limited to “arbitrating and moderating” the function of its institutions. But a lot of political deals had to be cut in 1978, and the weaknesses of the Constitution and its institutions have become clear. Unsurprisingly, politicians don’t want to open that can of worms.
That’s why pundit José Ignacio Torreblanca warned of the temptation to expect the new King to implement a “Second Transition,” and said that Felipe “ought to avoid the role of superhero.” The King might be able to provide momentum, Torreblanca said, but it will take the efforts of the entire society to carry out the change.
But how can society change things if its political system deliberately stymies change?
What about a republic – no king at all? Thousands of people have protested for a republic since Juan Carlos announced his abdication. Yet, when polled, 62% want a referendum on the monarchy, but only 36% would vote for a republic. People just want a say in their government.
In the end, that’s the issue. People want more, better democracy. Better government. They hope Felipe VI can somehow change the course of the nation. But will he have the freedom to act? Or will he be under the thumb of bad politicians, just like everyone else?
I worry that if we have to ask, the answer is no.
— Sue Burke
Also posted at my professional website, http://www.sue.burke.name