Spanish king’s health prompts talk of abdication

Health of Spanish king Juan Carlos and his future as monarch have come under scrutiny

The health of Spanish king Juan Carlos and his future as monarch have come under scrutiny this week, as he was operated on for the fifth time in 18 months.

The surgery, which took place on Tuesday in Madrid, was for a hip infection which had spread after a previous operation.

In the short term, the procedure means the king (75) will not be able to attend official events over the next few weeks. But increasing concern about his frailty, along with broader worries about the monarchy’s sliding popularity, have unleashed an unprecedented debate about his possible abdication.

Reporting on the success of the operation yesterday, crown prince Felipe, the heir to the throne, told reporters his father was “keen to get back on his feet as soon as the doctors allow it”.


But the king's physical deterioration in recent years has been alarming. In March, he was treated for a slipped disc and in 2012 alone he had three operations on his hip.

Those followed surgery on his knee, his heel and the removal of a benign lung tumour, all since 2010. In two months, he will also have a follow-up operation on his hip.

Often seen with sticks to help him walk, he looks a shadow of the widely admired monarch who played a key role in Spain’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s.

But scandals, as well as health worries, have fuelled the abdication talk.

One of last year’s hip operations, in April, was required because the king had fallen while in Botswana hunting elephants and the trip only came to public attention because of the injury. The holiday was widely criticised as inappropriate at a time when the Spanish economy appeared to be on the brink of collapse and the king faced widespread opprobrium, leading him to make a televised apology.

The royal family’s popularity has also been eroded by an ongoing investigation into the king’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, for allegedly embezzling money from a non-profit sports foundation which he used to head. His wife, the king’s younger daughter princess Cristina, has also been investigated in the inquiry.

Last Friday, Twitter was buzzing with rumours that the king's abdication was about to be confirmed. Instead, the royal household announced this week's hip operation, but that has done little to quell debate over the possibility that Felipe (45) could soon become king.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain