Little by little, without much ado, the Royal Palace is taking steps toward greater public transparency. They are discreet steps, but put together, they represent a change of some magnitude in the customs of the Spanish monarchy.
First was the decision to distance the Duke of Palma, Iñaki Urdangarin, consort to Princess Cristina, from all official acts after irregularities in the institution he directs were publicly revealed. The king's Christmas address stressed the universality of the law and its consequences; it was well received by the public and the deputies of the new parliament.
On Wednesday, the royal household revealed its finances for the first time. As a result, citizens are now aware that of the total annual royal allowance of 8.43 million euros, the king receives 292,000 euros per year (140,000 in the form of salary, and the remainder to cover expenses); Prince Felipe receives 146,000 euros per year; and that both pay taxes on this income to the tune of 40 percent and 37 percent, respectively.
It would be futile to deny that these attempts at greater transparency are a result of the stir caused by the Duke of Palma's implication in the corruption case known as Operation Babel. The king is not obliged to reveal the palace's finances. The royal gesture must be interpreted as a tacit invitation for the authorities to get to the bottom of the financial activities of the king's son-in-law, as such transparency is fundamental for a healthy democratic system.
Consequently, and though there will undoubtedly be a chorus of voices clamoring for further details of the royal accounts, it is important that the significance of the message is understood: the first step in making the king's finances public, and all the political and legal implications that this first step may hold.
It is crucial that this public disclosure become the norm. Furthermore, given that the transparency of public accounts is a democratic right, it would be advisable that the long-awaited law envisaged in the article of the Constitution concerning the Crown, and meant to clearly define succession rules, include precise definitions of the persons who make up the royal house and, as such, act in the name of the king, and those that are solely dedicated to private business pursuits. The law should also specify the exact level of disclosure and auditing required of the royal house.
Cutting royal spending
In times of grave economic crisis, with many Spanish families heavily afflicted by unemployment, it is important to know what measures the royal family is taking to rein in spending.
Demanding clarity in the royal finances is the most effective method of safeguarding the prestige of institutions, just as King Juan Carlos stated. And this appears to be the understanding of the royal household.