A reflection on the Monarchy, Monarchs and Freedom
Posted On April 28, 2021
[Illustration by Francesco Moretti]
In contemporary democracies, royal families no longer play a decisive role in the affairs of the State. In Europe, for instance, monarchs have effectively become accessories of the State, exercising duties which a merely symbolic. Generally unburdened by any real legal responsibility for their actions, they often appear to wander from one gaffe to the next, seemingly unresponsive to society’s troubles. But is this the full picture?
As a citizen of the Kingdom of Spain, I have been involved in more than one occasion in heated coffee shop conversations about whether or not Spain should continue to have a monarch. It’s an old constant in the Two Spains dilemma. Article 56 of the Spanish constitution peremptorily reminds us that the King “is the Head of State, the symbol of its unity and permanence” and “assumes the highest representation of the Spanish State in international relations.” However, the persuasiveness of these provisions suddenly fades when confronted with the king’s immunity from prosecution and the institutional predilection for male heirs. “Anachronistic” is surely a word that comes up often in coffee shop conversations about the Spanish monarchy.
The naughty royals of Spain
One of the most recurrent arguments against the institution of the Crown is its excesses. In Spain, this case really hits home, with the king’s brother-in-law ending in prison for fraud, and the elephant hunting trip of the former king hitting the headlines during the worst year of the financial crisis. Recently, the former king has also been implicated in a large financial scandal involving lovers, Swiss bank accounts and Saudi money, resulting in several investigations by the tax authorities and out of court settlements. In Spain, a king may be shielded from the law, but he will never escape the Spanish press, and neither will the image of the monarchy.
Despite all the excesses, however, the Crown should not be abolished simply out of disdain for corruption scandals. Indeed, when a parliamentarian is involved in a corruption scandal, nobody campaigns for scrapping parliament. Likewise, arguing that the Crown should be abolished because it would lighten up the burden of the treasury and therefore allow further investments in other areas is also a weak case. It is true that the royal family enjoys a much higher average salary than the Spanish average citizen, yet the budget dedicated to the Crown is a drop in the ocean when taking into account the size of the Spanish economy. Abolishing the monarchy will not result in new jobs, a reduction of public debt or an improvement of the citizens´ daily life. Conversely, we should ask ourselves what is the core purpose of the Crown, and whether its raison d’être is compatible with the values of the political system.
In Spain, the monarch personifies the Spanish nation, symbolically connecting all citizens and representing the country abroad. The royal family, as potential heirs and heiresses, is inevitably involved in the monarch’s duty, enhancing or damaging the symbolism of the crown through their behaviour. Recently, for instance, two non-official members of the royal family went to the Emirates on a visit to the former king, now in exile, and took the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The caring relatives, however, were not entitled to take the shot according to Emirati policy. In respect to Spain and Switzerland, their countries of residence, they were in the waiting list. Naturally, due to their questionable conduct the royal family distanced themselves. Some politicians condemned them harshly, and others defended their actions. The fact remains that, although related by blood to his majesty, these two members of the royal family do not enjoy any official position and they were acting as private citizens. Setting the ethical issue of accepting the vaccine, should they be judged as members of the royal family even if they were acting as private individuals?
In other words, does being born in the royal family mean that you will always be held to a different standard?
Leonor my future Queen v. Leonor my fellow citizen
Recently it was announced that Princess Leonor, heir to the throne, will be attending her last two years of high-school at UWC Atlantic College, in Wales. Although we can only wish Leonor the best of luck with this new opportunity abroad, one cannot help but wonder whether Leonor really had a choice, or whether she should have it at all. After all, the constitution has already decided her future: she is to become a symbol of unity and a model for the nation, just like her father. As a glorified state asset and future representative of Spain in the world, shouldn’t her education be for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to decide? If that was the case, one may wonder whether the image of the Crown (and that of the Spanish public education system) might have benefitted from sending Leonor to a public school, instead of the private institutions that she has always attended.
Setting provocations aside, in Europe, we have embraced the idea that the dignity of every individual should be protected, and that everyone is born free and equal. Each individual is entitled to have their own opinions and pursue their dreams, provided that society has not set insurmountable obstacles. Therefore, it is puzzling to think that, even on this continent, some babies are born under the widespread assumption that their lives should follow a predetermined path. Princess Leonor might have dreamt of finding a spot in the agroindustry sector to combat food insecurity, but she is constitutionally fated to live with the burden of uniting and representing a whole country, constantly living under the public eye as a role model to her people.
Nobody should be subject to such an obligation without consent. An ivory cage is still a cage. Instead of putting all the pressure on the shoulders of an Arthurian monarch, shouldn’t instead all the members of society take responsibility and contribute towards that ideal of unity?