Felipe VI and Constitutional Changes in Spain
On June 2, 2014, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced King Juan Carlos I had requested to begin the process for abdication after 39 years on the throne. Explaining his desire for “a younger generation to step into the front line” and a “new era of hope,” King Juan Carlos I abdicates in favor of his son Felipe. The King is widely credited with leading Spain’s transition into a democratic state following Franco’s death, but has faced plummeting public support amid personal and familial scandals in recent years.
The abdication ushers Spain into uncharted territory as the 1978 Constitution has no formal law regarding the succession process. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his government quickly set out to draft a new abdication law. Once the law receives the approval of parliament, speaker Jesús Posada explained Prince Felipe could assume the throne after 18 June, when the law is expected to come into effect. Spain is also expected to change the law to make certain Felipe’s first born, daughter Leonor, can succeed him, which would not be the case under current law if Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia were to have a son.
Prince Felipe has largely managed to stay above the scandals and maintains an approval rating of over 66%. Following King Juan Carlos’ announcement, 55.7% of those polled by Sigma Dos supported the monarchy as an institution in Spain, up from the 49.9% reported six months prior. 57.5 per cent believed the prince could restore the royal family’s lost prestige.
Nevertheless, the succession is not without dissent. Following the announcement of King Juan Carlos’ abdication, thousands flooded the streets of Madrid to contest the nation’s economic woes and the royal family’s annual €8.3m budget. Protestors demanded a say in the future of the monarchy. Some called for a referendum to replace the monarchy with an elected head of state. Their call was bolstered by the more than 245,000 people who had signed an online petition calling for a referendum. A Metroscopia poll published in El Pais shows 62% of Spaniards said they wanted a referendum on the future of the monarchy “at some point”.
The demands were countered by the government. “I think that the monarchy in Spain has the support of the majority,” Rajoy later responded. “If someone doesn’t like that, they can propose a constitutional reform. You have the perfect right to do so. But what you cannot do in a democracy is bypass the law.”
Felipe, the current Prince of Asturias, is fluent in Spanish, English, French and Catalan and studied in Canada before completing three years of training as part of Spain’s military. He earned a law degree in Madrid as well as a Masters in International Relations at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He will be the first university educated successor to the throne. He is expected to be crowned King of Spain on June 19 at the Spanish parliament.