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The Long Spanish Soap Opera

While Spain faces a turbulent economic crisis, it now becomes embroiled in a bitter power struggle-one which could shape its fate for the forseeable future

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Photo credit: J. Elliot
Photo credit: J. Elliot


It began much like a Mediterranean excerpt from Private Eye's 'Rotten Borough's' section. It might end with the final fall of the Bourbon family, rejected for the 3rd time by the French in 1848 but until now accepted as their rulers by Spain.

The Balearic Islands Council, governing the communal affairs of buck and spade Majorca and its all together hipper smaller sister Ibiza, already battered by allegations of corruption in the planning and property development process, was stung by allegations that it had paid kick backs to an events management company promoting business on the island.

Pretty run of the mill corruption you'd be forgiven for thinking. However, the owner of the group of companies under investigation is no "Average Joe" business man. Rather he is Inaki Urdangarin, a former Spanish Olympian, captain of their handball team, and most embarrassingly for the Spanish establishment married to the Intifada Christina, youngest daughter of the Spanish King and 7th in line to the throne. A fact which e-mails obtained by Spanish prosecutors, courtesy of the Manos Limpias, public sector union, appear to indicate that the couple were only to happy to take advantage of in their business dealings. Even if not charged she is likely to have to testify in court as might other members of the Royal Family: potentially including the King and Queen.

The scandal has plunged the country's royal family into turmoil. Rumoured plans to cut the couple adrift for making themselves a PR disaster were scuppered by a press backlash and made to look rather absurd when it was revealed in the tabloids that at a time when 20% of Spaniards are out of work (and at least 60% of under 24s), public sector workers have taken a 30% pay cut and several million Spaniards face losing their homes under a putative mortgage law that pre-dates Franco let alone the re-establishing of democracy. King Juan was on safari in Africa, accompanied by a woman long rumoured to be his beaux, on taxpayers money, killing the wildlife. A jolly unlikely to raise much merriment amongst his struggling, increasingly indignant, subjects.

The soap opera extends to the core of society. Members of the governing, right of centre Popular Party, including party's Treasurer have been implicated. Whilst members of the opposition Labour Party and the mainstream trade unions cannot look smug either, their regional and local governments have been implicated in similar scandals. Spanish workers are quite justified asking where their supposed representatives were in the boom years of the 2000s, when 3million unnecessary flats were built, and investment in social housing, health and education was sacrificed for prestige projects like high speed rail. Along with unnecessary and unwanted art galleries, museums and football stadia which still stand empty.

Justice in Iberia tends to move slowly. It will be a while before the Investigating Magistrates bring charges against the Urdangarin's. However, political damage is always instantaneous. Ever since 1982 when King Juan raced to Parliament to defeat a coup by a group of army officer's loyal to Franco's Falangist ideal support for the monarchy has always been stable at around 80%. After the recent revelations, the Spanish Sociological Council tells us that it barely reaches 40%. Indeed, while Spain faces a turbulent economic crisis, it now becomes embroiled in a bitter power struggle-one which could shape its fate for the forseeable future.

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