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Constitutional Crises Bring Attention to European Monarchs

Queen Elizabeth II inspects the guard of honor before entering Balmoral Castle, Scotland, at the start of her annual holiday, Aug. 6, 2019.
Queen Elizabeth II inspects the guard of honor before entering Balmoral Castle, Scotland, at the start of her annual holiday, Aug. 6, 2019.
Constitutional Crises Bring Attention to European Monarchs
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For most of the last 100 years, Europe's royalty have mainly been known for big weddings and newspaper gossip. Now, that might be changing.

Spain’s King Felipe VI used his power to denounce Catalonian separatism. He called the leaders of the 2017 popular vote for independence from Spain criminals. He also said it was his constitutional duty to save national unity.

Recently, the British media has wondered if Queen Elizabeth II will be called upon to end a possible constitutional crisis. It could involve Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to withdraw Britain from the European Union on October 31. Johnson said he will move forward with “Brexit” even if there is no official agreement with the EU.

Monarchs face political crises, and risks

The two royal heads of state would appear to have little in common.

Elizabeth II has been Queen for 67 years. Felipe became King just five years ago after the abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos, who was restored to the throne by dictator Francisco Franco in 1969.

They are relatives through Queen Victoria, who ruled the British Empire in the 1800s.

Political science professor William Ogilvie de la Vega of Franciso Marroquin University in Madrid said that both rulers are being asked to make political decisions. He said the reason is because elected politicians seem to be unable to do their jobs.

The two monarchs remain as constitutional heads of state. They hold what former Spanish ambassador to Britain Federico Trillo-Figueroa describes as “sleeping powers.”

Queen Elizabeth II has the power to start and end parliament and to sign legislation into law. She exercises those powers only at the request of the prime minister.

These powers "are normally exercised in an invisible way” Trillo-Figueroa told VOA.

But stepping into politics can cause problems.

Queen Elizabeth II has the power to refuse Johnson’s request to suspend parliament’s session if ministers try to stop Britain’s EU withdrawal without an agreement. However, she would risk angering the most traditional parts of British society -- and many of them voted to leave the EU in a 2015 popular vote. Officials at Buckingham Palace, the home of British monarchs, has said that the “will of parliament should be respected.”

A top supporter of Brexit, Nigel Farage, then released an attack on the royal family.

King Felipe similarly earned the anger of Catalan nationalists by openly supporting the federal government’s direct rule over Catalonia. Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau opposes Catalan independence, but she stays away from the king when he comes to Spain’s second largest city. Felipe is usually met with protests in the Catalan capital.

The newspaper El Mundo reported that former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy advised against a royal televised speech during the crisis in Catalonia. In the speech, Felipe accused Catalan officials of acting with unacceptable “disloyalty," before the government officially charged them with sedition and rebellion.

But Raquel Casviner Cañellas of the Catalan Civic Union said the king needed to speak to Spanish unionists who felt that the central government had been too weak.

Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos, helped the country move to democracy after the death of Franco. He later helped stop an attempt by the military in 1981 to seize power.

The younger generations of royals also seem to be more interested in politics. Prince Harry’s wife Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, has been criticized for her political opinions in a coming article she edited for British Vogue, titled “Fifteen forces for change.”

I’m Susan Shand.

VOA’s Martin Arostegui reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

gossip – n. information about the personal lives of people

abdication –n. the process of leaving the position of being king or queen

monarch – n. a king or queen

invisible –adj. not possible to see

session –n. a period of time when a group is meeting

sedition – n. the crime of saying, writing, or doing something that encourages people to disobey their governmen

article – n. a piece of writing about a particular subject that is included in a magazine, newspaper or online