06/03/2014 10:15 am ET Updated Aug 03, 2014

The King Who Apologized To His People Abdicated

Handout via Getty Images

The royal family's brand new Twitter account has been posting photos of the highlights of King Juan Carlos I. But the contrast with yesterday's photo is brutal. The image of the king in his office, signing his abdication, visibly deteriorated despite his official recovery, is difficult to forget. Older and worn out, the king who once apologized to his people, is now leaving office. By choice, yes, but also driven by the reality of a country that has long stopped considering him untouchable, a time when his crucial role in the transition of the country to democracy is diluted in memory and is not enough to ensure the unconditional support of the people.

I think it is right to pass the torch to his son, and I understand why he did not want to abdicate in the last months, filled with emergencies and rumors. The turning point came in 2012, with his bizarre hunting in Botswana and his escapades with Corinna: it was then when he looked, unknowingly, at the end of his reign. It has taken two years to digest that he will not die on the throne. King Albert II of Belgium, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and even Benedict XVI showed him the way: today, even Popes don't have to die in office, and the dignity of the title is not in holding on to it until the last minute.

After turning 76 this January, King Juan Carlos began to personally notify those closest to him -- as well as President Rajoy, and the leader of the opposition -- that the time had come. The planets were beginning to align: after the European elections of May 25 and its clear message against bipartisanship, one year before the next electoral race, with the need to distance himself from November 9 -- the proposed date for the referendum on the independence of Catalonia -- and Iñaki Urdangarín's trial and perhaps Princess Cristina's, his days seemed numbered. And last, but not least: the implosion of the PSOE with the delayed resignation of Rubalcaba meant that ​​this past weekend the final decision was made: this Monday, June 2, would be the day marking the end of the longest reign in our history.

On Tuesday, an extraordinary Council of Ministers approved the draft law of the Law of Abdication, and, by the evening, the General Committee and the Board of Elders will give the green light to a summary procedure that allows, in a single reading in Congress and Senate, to bring forward the law necessary to shape the takeover: the PSOE and PP votes are more than enough. So, in about three weeks, and in a no-frills, no-fanfare and no-glamour ceremony, the prince will be crowned by the Courts as Philip VI; his daughter Leonor will be the new Princess of Asturias, and the king and the queen -- the new monarch will decide what treatment they receive -- will be free to get on with their lives as they wish.

This last point is not trivial; if something has been broken in the 39-year reign of Juan Carlos it is the exquisitely clean lens with which the media has portrayed the royal family and its members. Criticisms or investigations were confronted with an airbag protection that nearly exploded in the mid-90s, when the government of Felipe González was shaky and the King's dangerous liaisons -- Javier de la Rosa, Manuel Prado, Mario Conde -- filled with shadows and doubts the adventures of the monarch. Back then social networks did not exist: today the scandal would have been impossible to stop. Now one cannot silence those who, inside or outside the traditional channels, question the parliamentary monarchy.

As I write these lines, manifestations are being held in several cities to demand a referendum on the state model: Republic or Monarchy. This was precisely one of the fears that preoccupied the king: that abdication would cause greater instability at a time of fragile equilibrium, with an institutional system that was openly questioned. But in this calculation demonstrations and protests, which the Casa del Rey has experienced in recent years, and will do so in the future, are also included. The exercise of transparency that citizens are claiming for has, in fact, already begun. And the great asset of the Zarzuela Palace is that, despite the deterioration of the monarchy in public opinion, most Spaniards do not list changing the institutional architecture as one of their priorities. For now.

Prince Felipe is left with the ultimate responsibility of representing this country in turbulent times. The king has said he has "the maturity, preparation and sense of responsibility necessary to take over the position of Head of State with confidence and begin a new era of hope, in which he combines acquired experience with the drive of a new generation." Nobody doubts that, at 46, Felipe de Borbón has sufficient training and experience to assume the position he has been preparing for since he was a child. But the key lies in something that is not directly under his control: to begin a new era of hope, which is a necessity rather than a requirement for any institution that wants to excel.

In any case, his time has come: the times demand a style, a mood and a different set of skills than his father had. From now on we will get to know what Felipe de Borbón is made of. I wish him all the luck and success that he, and this country, deserve.