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Juan Carlos steps out of the limelight

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía, before the abdication.
King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía, before the abdication. / SUR
  • The king emeritus, who abdicated in favour of his son in 2014, has announced his retirement from public life after playing a secondary role during the past five years.

On 2 June 2014 King Juan Carlos I of Spain announced that he would be abdicating in favour of his son, who is now King Felipe VI. Almost exactly five years on, he has just made a further announcement: he is retiring from public life altogether.

The abdication announcement had come as a relief to the defenders of a monarchy which was surrounded by scandals and a growing social aversion which threatened to put the continuity of the institution in Spain at risk.

In 2014 the king was under huge pressure due to health problems and the judicial investigation into his daughter, the Infanta Cristina, who had been accused of tax fraud and money laundering as a partner in companies owned by her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin. The 'Noós case', which ended with Urdangarin in jail, confirmed that the Crown was no longer untouchable, although the king had discovered that for himself on 13 April 2012, when he broke his hip during an elephant-hunting trip in Botswana while in Brussels the EU was discussing a possible intervention in Spain. To make matters even worse, he was accompanied on that trip by his soulmate, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. The ensuing scandal was so great that Juan Carlos was forced to make a public apology.

After the abdication, neither the government nor the royal family really knew what to do with a retired monarch, but he has been kept fairly busy. He attended the inauguration of the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, and a number of events, mostly sporting, mainly on his own. However, it was several months before he and his son, Felipe VI, both attended an official occasion.

The two men were reluctant to be seen together very often. The ghost of Corinna pursued Juan Carlos in the form of the Panama Papers and a paternity suit which was rejected by the Supreme Court. Above all this, however, hovered the Noós case, which in January 2016 saw his daughter Cristina in court. It was sensible for him to keep a low profile; in 2015 he only took part in 20 institutional acts, and was only seen once with Felipe VI.

In 2016, however, his professional diary began to fill up. That year he attended Fidel Castro's funeral in Cuba, the investitures of the presidents of Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Peru, the inauguration of the new Panama canal and the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the FARC. He had found a niche for himself in retirement. Or, at least, so it seemed.

In 2017 Juan Carlos started to take an even more active role in the agenda of the Royal Family, and the image of the monarchy began to improve. However, he soon discovered that those in the background run the risk of being forgotten.

In June last year, he was not invited to the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of democracy. Official sources say he wanted his son to preside over the event alone, but other versions say he refused to attend because nobody was sure where he should be placed. Those who know him say he was absolutely furious.

In fact, in 2018 Juan Carlos only appeared at 22 official events, many of them minor. The 80-year-old retired monarch's role was obviously being reduced, but at least he was able to step down in a blaze of glory.

Constitution Day, 6 December last year, took the form of an emotional tribute to the former king, and in the letter announcing his full retirement, he said it had been "unforgettable". It was the last time the king who no longer wears a crown would be the centre of attention. On Sunday, Don Juan Carlos will officially retire from public life. He will be attending the reinauguration of the bullring in Aranjuez, his final public duty. After that, he will be stepping out of the limelight once and for all.