PALACE CONTROVERSY

Royal apology means a “change of course” in king’s agenda

Palace sources say Juan Carlos will eschew private trips paid for by businessmen

Spain's King Juan Carlos looks on from inside a car as he leaves a Madrid hospital after being discharged. / ANDREA COMAS (REUTERS)

Never have 11 words (in Spanish) been so closely examined, scrutinized as to their tone and content, as those pronounced on Wednesday by King Juan Carlos as he left the Madrid hospital where had been recovering from hip-replacement surgery. “I’m very sorry. I made a mistake and it won’t happen again.”

But what did he really mean? Was it just an apology to take the pressure off after the wave of criticism relating to his unfortunate elephant-hunting trip to Botswana? What exactly is it that won’t happen again?

Palace sources have explained that behind the royal apology there is much more: nothing less than a complete “change of course” which began with the decision last winter to publish the Royal Household’s accounts. Don Juan Carlos, the sources say, is aware that over the past week the Spanish Monarchy has been at its lowest ebb since its restoration after the death of Franco. The figure of the king, who has enjoyed broad support due to his defense of the Constitution and democracy during the Transition and since, was in danger of a dramatic loss of popularity.

But the king also knows that this extraordinary public apology is in itself insufficient, that the sense of disappointment among society runs deep, and that profound changes are required. The Royal Household, led by Rafael Spottorno, is drawing up a procedural guide to ensure that such embarrassing scenes do not, in effect, happen again.

The king will not renounce his longstanding relationship with a German princess

The first thing that the king meant is that there will be no more trips like that of this month to Botswana, in other words private vacations paid for by sheikhs, millionaires or businessmen.

Up until now the government has only known about the existence of such trips for security reasons, with the exact nature of the spell abroad a complete secret even from the prime minister of the day. From now on the royal agenda will include a specific description of where the king is to be found and what activity he is engaged in.

The monarch feels that he has the right to his own privacy, but he will have to report to the government on his whereabouts and must take more care over the company he keeps. However, Royal Household sources insist that the king will not renounce his circle of friends, such as the longstanding relationship he has maintained with the German princess, Corinna Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a businesswoman and organizer of safaris who was with the king on the Botswana hunting expedition.

In recent days there has been much speculation over the identity of the other members of the shooting party. The name Mohamed Eyad Kayali, a Saudi businessman with property in Spain and who has acted as a representative of the Saudi royal house in this country, has been confirmed as the person who paid for the sumptuous safari and in whose private plan Don Juan Carlos traveled to Africa.

The Royal Household also wishes to take the opportunity to continue to increase the transparency surrounding the monarchy and its activities. Three months after Spottorno’s arrival as palace chief last summer the Royal Households accounts -- with an annual budget totaling 8.4 million euros – were published on its webpage.

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