Spain’s troubles started long before the abdication of King Juan Carlos, and it will take more than a change on the throne to relieve them.
Spain has had a tough time. It was one of the countries driven to seek a bailout in the wake of the financial crisis; the collapse of its real estate bubble sent it looking for help for its banks in 2012. Unemployment soared, particularly among young people; budget cuts resulted in widespread strikes and demonstrations, and the country’s credit rating fell.
One might think that Spain is now firmly on the road to recovery, since it exited recession last October and its economy is growing at the fastest pace in three years. The country even managed to exit its bailout program in January, and it just launched a major stimulus package at the beginning of June in the hope of creating jobs and increasing competitiveness.
But its troubles are far from over. Not only does it still have high unemployment and 15 years of debt payments from that bailout to look forward to, but a combination of corruption in the royal family and the abdication of the king, not to mention the drive for secession and independence in Catalonia, still roil the country’s daily life.
Despite the fact that Spain is a constitutional monarchy in which Parliament holds all the governing power, the corruption scandal was, and is, no small matter. After all, it led to the abdication of King Juan Carlos I in favor of his son, King Felipe VI, in early June.
There had been rumblings for some time that the king and the royal family were insensitive to the plight of the people of Spain. In 2012 Juan Carlos had to be airlifted back home after he broke his hip on an elephant hunting expedition in Botswana—a jaunt that cost the country many times the salary of the average Spaniard, and at a time when unemployment was at record levels. His companion on the trip, in another public embarrassment, turned out not to be his queen, but a German heiress.
The expedition also justifiably cost the king his position as honorary president of the World Wildlife Fund—perhaps not a major blow to the Spanish economy, but certainly an indication of his tin ear with regard to his position and his country’s image.
However, in its latest installment, the situation is far more serious. Iñaki Urdangarin, duke of Palma and husband of Juan Carlos’s daughter Princess Cristina, has been accused of overcharging two regional governments millions of euros via public contracts with a nonprofit organization that he set up. The outrage of Spaniards over the theft of public money at a time when the economy was in such poor condition has not restricted itself to Urdangarin.