In his recent book Felipe VI. Un rey en tiempos de adversidad [Felipe VI. A king in times of adversity [ed. Planeta]) José Antonio Zarzalejos (Bilbao, 1954) draws a portrait of the intense years of the monarch’s reign. It is a book written in favor of the Crown, conscious of its enormous historical importance, but which does not conceal the tremendous difficulties that the Crown is facing at the current political juncture.
In this long conversation for The Objective, José Antonio Zarzalejos reflects on Juan Carlos I’s difficult legacy, on the need to delimit the monarch’s inviolability, the role of Felipe VI during the procés [Catalan independence process], and future reforms that Spain needs to undertake.
In an earlier book, Mañana será tarde [Tomorrow It Will Be Too Late], you devoted a chapter to “the colors of corruption” and you came down particularly hard on the role of city governments. “Municipal corruption is the most pernicious”, you declared. In this book, devoted to King Felipe VI, you do not mince words in describing his father, the King emeritus. Do you still believe that corruption seeps up from below, as you suggested in Mañana será tarde, or on the other hand, do you now suspect that it is a more transversal phenomenon that plagues all the different levels of Spanish society in equal measure?
I based that 2015 essay on an empirical criterion: local administrations —with less oversight — and political parties are where the greatest cases of corruption have been recorded. This criterion continues to be perfectly valid, although corruption —and this is pointed out in the book— is a heterogenous phenomenon and crops up at every point. But it is linked to the way in which contracts for public works and services are approved and awarded and it is subject to the trafficking of influence. This continues to be the case, although in recent years there has been a more regenerative reaction. The presumed corruption of the former King does not fit into the usual scenario. On the contrary. It occurs in the echelons of the Head of State and it rests on a constitutional privilege granted for the full exercise of the Head’s functions: inviolability. The concept refers to the “person” of the King’s inaccountability before the law and, according to the current majority interpretation, it protects the institutional decisions and conduct of the Head of State in the exercise of his office, but it also applies to decisions and conduct sustained in his private life. It offers complete immunity, which, in this case, has served as an instrument for impunity. No term of comparison can be established, therefore, between this and the political corruption I referred to in Mañana será tarde.