The reason for Juan Carlos’s absence at the event was, according to the Royal Household, protocol: the former monarch, who abdicated in favor of his son, Felipe VI, in 2014, enjoys the status of King emeritus, and therefore it would have been an anomaly for him to attend such an important event in the presence of the reigning monarch.
A spokesman for King Felipe told EL PAÍS that when the monarch addresses Congress it is not customary for the former head of state to be present, and furthermore, it was Juan Carlos who established the principle when his son acceded to the throne.
Juan Carlos was reported to be unhappy at being excluded from an event that praised his key role in Spain’s democratic transition four decades ago and that was attended by other major figures who helped organize and participated in the general elections of 1977.
If the act had taken place in a less formal setting, there would have been no problem Royal Household spokesman
Juan Carlos had been sailing off the coast of Galicia for a few days, but had reportedly cleared the last week of June in his schedule, assuming he would be invited to the commemoration – not to steal the limelight from his son but to meet up with other key figures of the period.
The former monarch was in conversation with Ana Pastor, the speaker of Congress. She had mentioned ongoing talks with the Royal Household to find a way around protocol and thus make it possible for Juan Carlos to attend the event.
Juan Carlos did not attend his son’s proclamation in Congress three years ago, but the institutional reasons cited on that occasion pale beside the embarrassment of him not being invited to an event to commemorate events he played a central role in.
For example, the inclusion of the Communist Party, which was still illegal, in the elections of June 1977 was in large part due to the intermediary role played by Juan Carlos.
During his speech to Congress on Wednesday, King Felipe highlighted the role played by his father.
“If the act had taken place in a less formal setting, there would have been no problem,” said a spokesman for the Royal Household on Thursday. One solution that seems not to have been considered would have been the use of the so-called Tribune of Honor in Congress, which has been used for the heads of regional governments and other illustrious guests. This is where Queen Sofía and the infantas were seated during the proclamation of Felipe VI.
The explanations appear not to have convinced Juan Carlos. Sources close to the former monarch said he was shocked that invitations were even sent to the granddaughters of Dolores Ibárruri, the Communist Party leader credited with the phrase “They shall not pass” during the Civil War and who returned to Spain from exile in the Soviet Union in 1977.
English version by Nick Lyne.