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The International Writers Magazine: Spain 2014

King Felipe V1
• James Skinner
It has been quite a hectic month for this European country, although I suppose the most important news was the abdication of King Juan Carlos I after forty-nine years and the crowning of his son as the new king of Spain, King Felipe VI and his wife Letizia as queen.

King Felipe and Family

The news was overwhelmingly broadcast throughout the world with all the necessary details ranging from the biography of the two monarchs and their families as well as the recent history since the death of Generalissimo Franco that ended forty years of dictatorship during the last century. The challenges facing the new king have also been aired, particularly in the national press and many have already been covered in previous reports in Hackwriters. Nevertheless it is important to take note of the salient facts of this item of news that are of particular interest to the rest of the report.

The reasons for Juan Carlos I’s abdication are not clear and are open to debate. A personal opinion is that he was in poor physical health, had undergone several operations (spinal stenosis similar to my own wife) in the last year or so and above all was exhausted after the recent trip to the Middle East. Many others feel that the popularity of the monarchy had hit rock bottom due to the various scandals involving his misbehavior on the one hand and the continued fraud case of his son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin married to his daughter Princess Cristina, who incidentally has just been indicted for her involvement in the case.

The new King Felipe VI on the other hand has a clean slate and not only does he bring a breath of fresh air due to his youth, he is the first monarch to be crowned during a stable presidential democracy. He has been proclaimed king, as per the Spanish Constitution, with an overwhelming majority in the Spanish Parliament, the Senate and the Courts. As Head of State he is also head of the Spanish armed forces that include the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. All the respective Chiefs-of-Staff have sworn their allegiance to the new king. This is good news.

However, the change has opened the floodgates of the underground republican movement that has been around since 1978. Demonstrations, banners and above all republican flags are now a daily parade throughout the country demanding a referendum on the monarchy. So far, the conservative (PP) government under Mariano Raja has stuck to its guns that the Constitution is paramount and any change must go through the democratic channels, i.e. national elections that are not due until the end of next year. Rajoy’s answer applies to a similar request by Catalonia – widely reported in the past – that is seeking total independence from Spain. The Basque country and Galicia are on the same wavelength.

It is too early to report on any results and so far, his initial speech and subsequent visit to Catalonia have kicked off on a high note. Time will tell whether he lives up to expectations especially as Spain is still suffering from a tremendous economic, social and political crisis.

The pundits say that all this change in monarchy was carried out suddenly and on a low key and because Spain’s football team, the defending world champions were due to play in the qualifying round of this year’s World Cup in Brazil at the same time. Whether this decision would have had an effect, negative or positive is questionable. The fact is that the Spaniards were soon returning back home having failed to qualify. It was the end of eight years of world football supremacy.

Another major news item is the sudden resignation of the Socialist (PSOE) leader Alfredo Rubalcaba, his vow to leave politics altogether and return to his old post as chemistry professor at the Complutense University in Madrid. ‘Freddy’ was a member of the original government of Felipe Gonzalez, as the opposition party spokesman during Aznar’s reign (PP) and then as part of Rodriquez Zapatero’s government. He is a well-respected politician by all parties but has suffered since the overwhelming defeat of the socialists during the European Union parliamentary elections. The result showed that change was due within the party as their popularity had dropped to unheard of levels over the past forty years. The rise of other extreme left groups such as ‘Podemos’ and ‘United Left’ (IU, Marxist group) that took away a large number of votes added to the fall. It has thrown the party into disarray. From the ashes, two new candidates Eduardo Madina (a Basque that suffered an ETA terrorist attack and lost a leg) and Pedro Sanchez (from the Madrid group) are now battling for position as the new secretary. Depending on whether their policies are inclined towards the Centre-left or Extreme-left remains to be seen.

I have said for many years that Spain’s future will depend on reform of the Socialist Party and move towards the centre-left of European style politics. If so, there next step should be to negotiate a state pact with the conservatives on major issues such as education and regional restructuring. If on the other hand they continue down the usual road of confrontation on all issues regardless of national interest they may hamper the political future of this country. Rajoy has been forthright and asked them for a dialogue on this very theme to solve the country’s major problems.

Nevertheless, Sr. Alfredo Rubalcaba will be remembered as a true democrat and an extremely talented politician. Ovations by all parliament members were carried out when he gave his final departing speech.

Fraud continues to plague the nation.

The latest scandal has involved fourteen members of the UGT trade union that have been arrested for issuing false receipts to fund the union. Eight are from Seville, five from Madrid and one from Jaen. It has been going on for ten years. It adds yet another member to the list of fraudulent institutions. The Spaniards are sick and tired of reading the more stories in the daily news of more corruption. 

Some time back I reported on the famous judge Mercedes Ayala that was slowly uncovering the massive fraud in Andalucía and was climbing up the ladder of the major political structure in the region. Only last month she brought to trial Ms. Magdalena Alvarez, ex-Minister of Public Works during Zapatero’s government and allowed her bail at nearly 30M Euros. Well, Ms. Alvarez was until recently the vice-President of the European Development Bank and before being sacked by the organization she conveniently handed in her resignation thus safeguarding her pension rights. Yet another political misdemeanor that went almost unnoticed and without too much media fuss!

The major case however and mentioned at the beginning of this report is that of Princess Cristina, King Felipe VI’s sister. Despite efforts by her lawyers to prove her innocence based on ignorance of the facts Judge Jose Castro has reason to believe that she is guilty and must be brought to trial. This is yet another challenger for the new king as his sister could face a possible prison sentence. The case however, may carry on for a few more years.

So what about the good old economy?

Mariano Rajoy and his government continue to forecast recovery albeit it slowly. The macro-economic figures are positive, exports are up and Spain faces yet another great year of massive tourism. Yet down at ground level, the feeling is still somber. Unemployment may be dropping, slightly, but the younger generation does not feel the optimism. For every job offered, regardless of the position or the location hundreds if not thousands of CV’s are presented. University graduates continue to seek work overseas with Germany and the UK as their first choice. The academic year has just ended and a new batch of professionals is now out on the playing field. The predictions continue to be grim as a whole generation may be lost over the next decade.   

© James G. Skinner. July, 2014.

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