Is Spain mature enough for the former king to stand trial?

2 min
The king emeritus in a 2019 file image.

BarcelonaWe often hear members of the Spanish government (basically the Socialists) and the opposition say that Spain is a mature democracy that occupies a privileged place in international rankings. But the truth is that the announcement that the Supreme Court Prosecutor's Office is preparing to shelve investigations into the alleged crimes committed by emeritus King Juan Carlos I shows that this is not quite the case. And that, without denying that Spain is a proper democracy, it is not yet mature enough to face a trial against one of the key characters of the Transition to democracy such as the former monarch, which would surely shake the foundations of the regime of 78. The fact that Spanish prosecutors have run up against the wall of inviolability and the Spanish Treasury has accepted the regularisations of opaque wealth worth €5m made by Juan Carlos I leaves the case now only in the hands of the Swiss prosecutor Yves Bertossa.

It is true that the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office is still looking at one loose end of a case that, if prosecutor Pastor's investigations bear fruit, could provide evidence to reopen the case. Nevertheless, the chances are rather slim given the unwillingness of Saudi authorities to collaborate. Everything suggests, therefore, that Juan Carlos I will not have to answer to the Spanish courts for alleged crimes committed and that he will remain unpunished despite the fact that it is known that he received $100m from the Saudi Ministry of Finance for his work as an intermediary in the tender for the Mecca-Medina high-speed train. Due to its shady origin, the money was later transferred to his mistress Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein.

When the courts are done with Juan Carlos I, the Crown will have to face a new debate: should he return to Spain? Where could he settle? What relationship will he maintain with his son, who sees the prestige of the institution he embodies degrading day by day due to the revelations about his father? What position will the Spanish government adopt, where for the first time there is a clearly republican component? The fires sparked over the monarchy are far from extinguished, and this is a debate that will not go away.

If the main Spanish parties were democratically scrupulous, they would push for a reform of the Constitution to modify, for example, Article 56.3, which states that "The person of the king is inviolable and not subject to liability" to make it clear that this "inviolability" can only be applicable to acts endorsed by the government of the day, but not for what the monarch does in a personal capacity. And it is clear that a monarch in office cannot charge commissions of any kind. The male preponderance in the dynastic line should also be eliminated from the Constitution, as it is an inheritance from the past that has no place in the 21st century.

Even so, it is difficult for the PP and the PSOE to dare to open the debate of constitutional reform, so that the decline of the institution will continue unchecked regardless of the future of Juan Carlos I. And this whether they judge him or not.