2 June 2014: A turning point in Spanish history: the King abdicates

King Juan Carlos announced his abdication on 2 June 2014.
King Juan Carlos announced his abdication on 2 June 2014. / SUR
  • King Juan Carlos left the Spanish throne to his son and heir, Felipe, then the Prince of Asturias

On the morning of 2 June 2014 newsrooms around the country were buzzing with anticipation. La Moncloa palace, the official residence of the Spanish prime minister, had called an unexpected and urgent press conference. There would be an announcement, journalists learned, of "great institutional relevance". There was much speculation but it was clear that this was something more than a cabinet reshuffle or even the calling of a snap election.

Finally the prime minister Mariano Rajoy confirmed suspicions: "His Majesty has just informed me of his wish to give up the throne and start the succession process," he said. King Juan Carlos was to abdicate and leave the Spanish throne to his son and heir, Felipe, then the Prince of Asturias.

The monarch himself confirmed his decision later that morning, by reading a message on television, in which he set out his reasons for his abdication: the country needed reforms, and he wasn't the right person to make them.

"Today a younger generation deserves to come to the forefront, with new energy, prepared to undertake with determination the transformations and reforms that current circumstances demand and face the challenges of the future with renewed intensity," he said.

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. / SUR

The circumstances he referred to included the economic crisis "that has left serious scars on the [nation's] social fabric", he explained, adding, "These difficult years have allowed us to be self-critical, recognising our errors and limitations as a society."

Those circumstances to which King Juan Carlos was responding with his abdication also included the predicted end to the country's two-party system, as new parties such as Podemos and Ciudadanos were gaining support to the detriment of the PP and the PSOE. Then there was the Catalan independence movement that threatened the unity of the country.

"My son Felipe, heir to the throne, embodies stability, which is the hallmark of the royal institution," he said.

This stability under Juan Carlos, on the throne since the death of Franco in 1975, had been jarred in recent years by events affecting the king and the royal family, among them six operations. The image of the royal family had been damaged by the Nóos embezzlement case, in which his daughter Cristina would later go on trial for her suspected role in her husband's business affairs. And the final realisation that the monarch was no longer untouchable came with the Botswana affair, when Juan Carlos fell and broke his hip on an elephant hunting trip, angering a large part of the population. He was later forced to apologise.

After the announcement on 2 June, the abdication was passed through Parliament and formalised by 19 June when Prince Felipe became King Felipe VI of Spain.

Since then Juan Carlos, now 78, who maintains the title of King, has made some, but few, public appearances.