The head of the Spanish monarchy is Don Juan Carlos Victor Maria de Borbon y Borbon who has been king and official head of state of the kingdom of Spain since his coronation on November the 22nd 1975, two days after the death of dictator Franco. His kingship is legitimated by heredity, by the previous dictatorial regime, and by the constitution of 1978. The king is the figurehead of the nation and technically he has no powers outside the constitution. His influence on state affairs does however have an historic background as Juan Carlos played a key role in the democratization process of Spain by appointing a prime minister that transformed Spain into a democracy.
Title two, chapter five of the constitution settles the matters concerning the crown. Article 56SC of this chapter outlines three royal functions:
- Moderating functions. The constitution offers the king a few specific functions such as calling elections to parliament and sanctioning and promulgating laws to carry out effectively his role, summed up in article 62SC. These mere formal functions are mainly carried out in relation to both the legislative and executive powers and they ensure that the institutions of the state run smoothly. According to P.J.Donaghy and M.T. Newton this function involves the collaboration of the monarch with the organs of the state. This to ensure that extremist or arbitrary tendencies, which might threaten the proper functioning of the system, are avoided.
- An arbitrary function. As mentioned previously, the constitution allows the king some discretionary power in his right to propose a candidate prime minister to parliament after general elections or after resignation, or death of the existing P.M. (art. 62.dSC). This power is very limited when a single party has a majority in Congress, which forces the king to call upon the leader of the majority party to head a new government. The latter has been the case since the last four elections. Seemingly unimportant, this instrument played a key role in the democratisation process after the death of Franco.
- Symbolic functions. The King is the official head of state. As such, he represents the state both within Spain and abroad, which brings along corresponding duties in the international field such as state visits abroad and the reception of other heads of state(art.63.1SC) He furthermore makes civil and military appointments on recommendation of the government, and awards special honours and distinctions. Most important however, is his title of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In this symbolic capacity he managed to stave off the coup d'etat of February 23, 1981 when he made an appearance on television, dressed in full military uniform, assuring the army that the plotters did not have his backing.
As figurehead, the king is inviolable and can not be held personally responsible for his acts which always have to be co-signed by the competent minister or prime minister (art.64SC). As in most parliamentary monarchies, the acts which lie within the kings competency are therefore but formal ones, as regards to content they are governmental acts. But event though the kings position is above all symbolic, based on his personal qualities, he can radiate much authority, especially in his direct contacts with the Prime Minister and other ministers. The king is the symbol of Spain’s unity and permanence (art.56SC). As such, he commented that Navarre had made their choice over their own identity criticizing the Basque claim on Navarre in 1988. He furthermore stated that Spain could accommodate different languages within its state boundaries in reply to the renewed Catalonian and Basque demands for greater autonomy in1992. At the same time he is formally obliged to swear to respect the rights of the autonomous communities at his inauguration (art.61.l.1SC).