The media noise about the case of Iñaki Urdangarin, the king's son-in-law and former Olympic handball player (who received large sums of public money for organizing vacuous sports events) has almost obscured the Jaume Matas case, of which it is a ramification. This is probably much to the satisfaction of former Balearic premier Matas, but the Matas case deserves our undivided attention. Matas, involved in 19 of the 26 separate proceedings that make up the Palma Arena corruption case, is free on bail, accused of misappropriation of public funds (on seven occasions), administrative fraud, misuse of public office, bribery, money laundering, tax evasion, electoral fraud and falsifying public documents.
This man, an economist of 56, who went to business school with Eduardo Zaplana (another prominent politician of the right), was first premier of the Balearic Islands, then national environment minister, and then regional premier again, with a clear parliamentary majority guaranteed by the Popular Party, which never noticed any problem until a judge began to investigate in 2008. Matas occupied all these posts even while, according to the still pending accusations, he was committing his multiple frauds and embezzlements; and nobody in his party or his milieu saw fit to report him.
It is true that the Urdangarin case deserves rejection and public indignation too, on its own account. It would deserve this even were he not the king's son-in-law, and it is all the more deserving of rejection in that Urdangarin is the husband of the Infanta Cristina (who, we are told, was brought up in a family tradition of public service, and is supposed to know better.) But the scandal also concerns one of the country's principal institutions, the monarchy, and highlights some problems that call for consideration.
For example, how could it be that the governments of the time were unaware of what was going on? If they knew nothing of Urdangarin's doings, this is bad enough, as they have an obligation to know about things that may damage the monarchy. And if they knew, then why did they not step in?
One thing is the king's right to manage strictly family affairs at his own discretion; and another to forget that the government has to endorse all the actions of the head of state, and has the obligation to defend the institutions. As long as the monarchy is the political form of the state, the prime minister has an obligation to defend it, and the best way of doing so is to supervise its functioning. The impression is that recent governments have forgotten this obligation, and have permitted an inefficient management of the Royal House.
The issue deserves some prudent reflection. The monarchy exists in a sort of no-man's-land. In general, the Spanish left has a congenital prejudice against monarchy. Nor in Spain does the monarchy enjoy the support of the right, which is not monarchical, perhaps because it abhors the complicity that may have existed between the Crown and certain governments of the left; and perhaps, too, because the Spanish right contains some clearly anti-monarchical elements, heirs to Franco and the Falange.
The Urdangarin case, by continually exposing the Crown to public opinion, has breathed new life into these groups, who are always ready to distract public attention from the grave social and economic problems facing Spanish society and shift it toward a confused debate on the Republic and the abdication of the king. This attempt at distraction has a great deal more to do with their own political interests than with the future of Iñaki Urdangarin, or with the government's role in supervising the functioning of the monarchy. And, needless to say, it ignores the fundamental role played by this institution in the consolidation of democracy in Spain.