The king shouldn’t be untouchable, says Spain’s PM

Spain's Prime Minister on Monday said that the sovereign immunity which protects Spanish monarchs from prosecution is outdated and unnecessary, at a time when emeritus king Juan Carlos remains in exile over his troubles with the law.

Spain's King Felipe VI and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pose for a group picture after the Carlos V European Award ceremony in October
Spain's King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez agree that the Spanish monarchy has to adopt a more contemporary model. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday called into question the legal protection Spanish monarchs are awarded under the Spanish Constitution.

“I think it’s not necessary for the king’s inviolability to be recognized, it’s the product of another era, a legitimate one at that stage, but not something for a consolidated democracy with more than 40 years of history,” Sánchez told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser on Monday.  

Article 56.3 of the Spanish Constitution states that “the King is inviolable and is not subject to liability”. 

In other words, due to the king or queen’s position, they cannot be subjected to any judicial process as they cannot be held responsible for their actions. 

That means that Spain’s current King Felipe VI cannot be tried whilst he is Head of State.

However, Sánchez’s views on sovereignty immunity were not necessarily aimed at the current monarch, who he praised for the fact that “Felipe VI defends a way of carrying out his responsibilities as Head of State in a contemporary way”.

The PSOE socialist leader went on to acknowledge that to reform this aspect of the Spanish Constitution, it would be necessary to have the support of the main opposition party: staunch royalists the Popular Party.

“It takes two to tango,” Sánchez concluded. 

The Spanish Prime Minister’s words may have been aimed rather at emeritus king Juan Carlos I, who stepped down in 2014 after a series of scandals, a crisis for the Spanish royal family he has only worsened since then. 

Spain’s ex-king has been in exile in the United Arab Emirates since August 2020, with mounting legal problems involving tax fraud, kickbacks and even a restraining order for harassment from his former girlfriend. 

READ ALSO: ‘Alone and bored’ – A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain’s ex-king

According to reports he’s now eyeing a return to his homeland, using his royal immunity to avoid any prosecution in Spain. 

But does the former king enjoy the same legal protection even though he’s no longer on the throne?

Juan Carlos I has what’s called “aforamiento” in Spanish rather than the “inviobilidad” that King Felipe still enjoys.

In theory, they grant different degrees of legal protection, but in practice after a legal reform in 2014 other members of the royal family – queens, princes, former kings and princesses – obtained extra immunity from judicial processes in a similar way to what ruling monarchs enjoy.

Sánchez on Tuesday reiterated the need for King Juan Carlos to give explanations specifically on “the reasons that have led him to be absent from Spain and on what is being seen in the media”.

Asked about the possible return of Don Juan Carlos to Spain, Sánchez recalled that it is not a choice that “corresponds” to him, stating that he respects the decision made by the king emeritus.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Spain’s PP is hot on the heels of PSOE, but will they need Vox to govern?

With the next general election slated for December 2023, recent polling shows Spain's Conservatives gaining ground on the Socialists. Spanish political correspondent Conor Faulkner looks at whether the PP will need far-right Vox to govern, as they now do at a regional level.

Spain's PP is hot on the heels of PSOE, but will they need Vox to govern?

Recent polling from Spain’s CIS (Centre for Sociological Research) shows the incumbent PSOE-led government with a slight, but shrinking, advantage over opposition parties.

On 30.3 percent, Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE would form the government if elections were held today, but that score is unimproved since April and, crucially, the centre-right party Popular Party is gaining, polling at 28.7 percent in May, with the difference between the two now only 1.6 percent.

In fact, PP have been on a steady rise since a turbulent start to 2022 in which former leader Pablo Casado was forced to resign after becoming entangled in intra-party infighting with PP’s regional President in Madrid, Isabel Ayuso.

Casado was replaced by Galician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, considered to be a more traditional centre-right candidate in the mould of Rajoy, who served as President of Galicia between 2009-2022.

PROFILE: Feijóo, steady hand on the tiller for Spain’s opposition party

Whereas Casado was often drawn into scandal and outflanked on cultural issues by far-right Vox, Feijóo is considered a more conventional conservative less prone to populism, and his short tenure as leader has put the PP back on the road to electoral respectability. 

PP were polling around 21 percent in February, amid the public infighting, but since then have steadily risen to the 28.7 percent that they would get if an election were held today, according to recent CIS numbers.

Yet, while many view Feijóo as more centrist than his predecessor, at the regional level far-right Vox have entered into a regional government coalition with PP in Castilla y León.

With important regional elections looming in Andalusia in June, and a general election further down the line in December 2023, it remains unclear if PP would be forced to rely on Vox to overcome PSOE’s thin polling advantage and form a national government.

Crucially, PP’s recent rise has not chipped away at Vox’s polling numbers. According to the CIS, Vox’s polling numbers grew from 14.8 percent in April to 16.6 percent in May, and with centrist Cuidadanos all but electorally wiped out, hovering around 2 or 3 percent all year, and the far-left, junior coalition partner Podemos falling further in the polls, to below 10 percent, the CIS estimate a higher probability of a right-wing PP-Vox (45 percent) than they do a PSOE-Podemos (39.9 percent) government.

With Vox now firmly established as Spain’s third political party and already on the offensive in Castilla y Leon’s regional government – including its Minister of Industry, Commerce and Employment in the assembly recently declaring war against “the virus of communism” – all eyes will be on the upcoming Andalusian regional elections to see if PP is again forced to rely on Vox members to form a government.

Vox’s anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, climate-sceptic populist policy programme is controversial, and the prospect of them as junior coalition partner in a national government would be an abrupt change from a government that wants to introduce menstrual leave and provide financial aid to renters.

Their entry into government at the regional level in Castilla y León was the first time they have officially entered into an executive, at any level, although PP have relied on Vox votes in regional assemblies in both Murcia and Andalusia in the past.

READ ALSO: Spanish cabinet approves paid ‘menstrual leave’

Whereas under Casado’s leadership PP were often forced rightward on cultural issues in an effort to stop Vox shaving away at their core electoral base, under Feijóo the future is less clear. Although Feijóo is considered more centrist than his predecessor, Vox’s steady rise since its emergence into Spanish politics since 2014 worries many on the left and centre, particularly as it has now officially entered into government at the regional level.

Yet, Feijóo seems keen to draw some distinction between the two parties. “The leaders of Vox cannot prove experience in management [of the country] because they do not have it, [and] it seems that they do not like the European Union… the State of Autonomies does not satisfy them either,” he said this week, but did recognise their electoral gains as “obvious.”

“The difference between Vox and the PP,” he continued, “is that a good part of Vox leaders came from the PP and left the common home.”

“We are very interested in those votes that those leaders have because they were votes that the PP had. And, as you will understand, we are here to win,” he added.

What exactly that means for the future political makeup of La Moncloa – whether Feijóo intends to win back those votes for PP or keep them in the ‘common home’ and work with Vox in coalition – remains unclear.

With the Sánchez-led coalition having had almost its entire term swallowed up by the global pandemic, then war in Europe, and now a cost of living and inflation crisis, it seems likely the left could lose the next general election and the Spanish right will return to power.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether that means a PP government or a PP-Vox coalition and the prospect of the far-right in government. All eyes will be on Andalusia in June to see how Feijóo pivots his party as it looks ahead to general elections next year. 

READ ALSO: What a Vox government could mean for foreigners in Spain