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Juan Carlos I, the King who oversaw transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain

As King Juan Carlos I announced the end of his 38 year reign, he will be remembered as the Head of State who drove the transition to democracy after the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and overcame the coup d'état on 23 February 1981. In 1969, Franco appointed him his successor, and he took the throne on 22 November 1975.  Within months King Juan Carlos had chosen Adolfo Suárez as the first Spanish Prime Minister after Franco's Dictatorship. Once the Spanish Constitution was approved in 1978 and parliamentary monarchy established after the 1981 coup, the King enjoyed years of relative stability as one of Europe´s most popular monarchs. However, since 2011, his image has deteriorated as a result of a long running corruption investigation into the business dealings of his daughter and her husband, and in 2012 his reputation was further tarnished by a €10,000 hunting trip to Botswana during Spain´s deep economic crisis.

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02 June 2014 09:07 PM

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ACN

Madrid (ACN ).– As King Juan Carlos I announced the end of his 38 year reign, he will be remembered as the Head of State who drove the transition to democracy after the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and overcame the coup d'état on 23 February 1981. In 1969, Franco appointed him his successor, and he took the throne on 22 November 1975.  Within months King Juan Carlos had chosen Adolfo Suárez as the first Spanish Prime Minister after Franco's Dictatorship. Once the Spanish Constitution was approved in 1978 and parliamentary monarchy established after the 1981 coup, the King enjoyed years of relative stability as one of Europe´s most popular monarchs. However, since 2011, his image has deteriorated as a result of a long running corruption investigation into the business dealings of his daughter and her husband, and in 2012 his reputation was further tarnished by a €10,000 hunting trip to Botswana during Spain´s deep economic crisis. Now, the abdication and proclamation of his son Felipe as the new King are considered an attempt by the Crown to build its reputation back and also push for political reforms in Spain, at a time when public trust in democratic institutions is extremely low.


Born in Rome on 5 January 1938, Juan Carlos is the son of Juan Battemberg de Borbón, Count of Barcelona, and Maria de las Mercedes of Orléans. He spent his early childhood in exile in Switzerland and Portugal, and only arrived in Spain in 1948 during Franco's Dictatorship. The Regime had him back from exile, while his father was not allowed to come back. At sixteen, he finished high school in Madrid and then continued his education at the Military Academy of Zaragoza. His military studies carried on until 1960, and during those years he attended the Naval Military School of Marín and General Air Academy of San Javier.

In 1962, he married Sophia of Greece, daughter of the Greek King Paul, with whom he has three children: Elena, Cristina and Felipe, the heir to the Crown, named Prince of Asturias and Girona, and also soon to be Felipe VI. The Crown Prince will reign alongside Letizia Ortiz , his wife of ten years with whom he has two daughters , 8-year-old Eleanor, now the first successor to the Kingdom, and Sofia.

Juan Carlos was appointed Prince of Spain by Franco, who named hi his successor

In 1969, at the suggestion of the Dictator Francisco Franco, Juan Carlos was appointed successor as Head of State and was named Prince of Spain. On 22 November 1975, two days after the death of Franco, Juan Carlos was officially sworn King of Spain. He gave his first speech to the public in Spanish Parliament. Thus, Juan Carlos assumed the position in front of his father, the Count of Barcelona, \u200B\u200Bwho officially resigned his dynastic rights in 1977.

On 6 December 1978, the Spanish people voted in a referendum on the current Constitution, which recognizes, in Article 56.1, the monarch as "a symbol of unity and permanence" and the arbitrator and moderator of the regular functioning of the institutions. In addition, the text describes the position of the monarch as "inviolable," which means he does not have penal responsibilities.

The 1981 coup was the consolidation of the King's public image

Three years later, on 23 February 1981, the King had to deal with a military coup, in which 200 armed officers of the Guardia Civil stormed the Spanish Parliament, which was in the process of electing Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as the new Prime Minister. After hours of uncertainty, with MPs inside the House of Representatives held under the control of Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, Juan Carlos gave a televised address to the Spanish public at dawn, denouncing the coup, urging the restoration of law and order and reaffirming his commitment to democracy.

Scandals started to erode the King's image

Since then, the King and Spanish institutions have been consolidated in the social and political landscape. However, in 2011, the popularity of the monarchy plummeted following the 'case Nóos' corruption scandal involving the King´s son in law, Iñaki Urdangarín, who is married to his youngest daughter, Cristina. In an ongoing investigation, Urdangarín (Duke of Palma) and his ex-associate, Diego Torres, are accused of appropriating public money for their own profit, through their setting up of a non-profit foundation, Institute Nóos.

While the palace has always maintained that the King knew nothing of the activities of Iñaki Urdangarin, in February 2013, Diego Torres told a judge that the Duke made no decisions "without palace approval" and released a series of emails which appeared to support this claim. Even 'The New York Times' published a piece which observed that Undargarín´s scandal "corners" the King.

Juan Carlos' declining reputation was exacerbated in April 2012, when he decided to go on a luxury elephant hunting trip in Botswana, accompanied by his close-friend Corina zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who has travelled with the King on many other occasions. During this trip, Juan Carlos sustained a hip fracture and had to be airlifted to Madrid for treatment. The trip provoked outrage because of the expense of the holiday and the medical transfer, during a time of financial crisis. From hospital, the monarch sent a brief message "to apologize" for his behaviour and promised "it would not happen again." The relationship between Juan Carlos and Corina also caused much controversy, particularly as Corina had exchanged emails with Urdangarin, suggesting she may have been involved in the business of the King´s son in law.

Health problems

The monarch´s health has also deteriorated in recent years. In 2010, he underwent surgery at the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona to remove a lung nodule, from which he successfully recovered. More recently, he has had a herniated disc operation, and, following problems caused by arthritis, he has had to have a prosthetic hip implant. The King´s latest operation was in November 2013.

Coinciding with these episodes, in February 2013, the palace had to shake off the rumours of a possible abdication of the monarch. Specifically, palace sources claimed that the king would reign and there was "no plan A, nor B nor C." This denial also coincided with statements by the First Secretary of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), Pere Navarro, who was in favour that the King should resign, although his words were vehemently opposed by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), to which the PSC is federated.

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  • King Juan Carlos signing his abdication (by Casa Real / La Zarzuela)

  • King Juan Carlos signing his abdication (by Casa Real / La Zarzuela)