During a meeting with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at the Palace of La Zarzuela this morning King Juan Carlos I abdicated the crown of Spain in favour of his son, Prince Felipe. However, the abdication does not come into effect immediately, but will have to be approved by both houses of parliament. This will, it seems, take at least a couple of weeks.
In a televised speech to his people, the King gave no exact reason for his decision, but stated that his 76th birthday last January made him feel that "the time had come to prepare the handover to make way for someone who is in the best possible conditions to maintain that stability", a stability he believes is "a defining feature of our monarchy" and which he thinks his son "embodies".
The actual reasons are probably a combination of the King's health problems and how the standing of the Spanish monarchy has been severly undermined by a series of scandals during the past two or three years. The most serious has been the court case which has seen Princess Cristina's husband, Iñaki Urdangarín, accused of corruption and embezzlement, a case the rest of the royal family have also been dragged into.
For the King the problems started in April 2012 when he fell and broke his hip while hunting elephants in Botswana with another woman than the Queen. This, which happened shortly after the King had spoken of how Spain's severe economic problems, which have caused an unemployment rate of 25 % (and 50 % for those under the age of 25), kept him awake at night, opened the floodgates for criticism of the monarchy and the King.
As the King's approval ratings and support for the monarchy plummeted Prince Felipe managed to keep out of the storm and it seems things had eventually reached the point where King Juan Carlos had become a problem for the monarchy and the chances for its survival would improve by his stepping aside.
King Juan Carlos can thus be said to have sacrificed himself for the future of the monarchy, but it is an ironic - and tragic - end to the reign of the monarch who steered Spain from dictatorship to democracy following the death of the Facist dicator Francisco Franco, who had hoped Juan Carlos would continue the Francoist regime. It is to be hoped that history will remember King Juan Carlos I for the great contributions he made to his country and to democracy rather than for the disgraceful end to his nearly forty-year reign.