(Financial Times, 20 de setembre de 2012)

The king of Spain’s call for national unity to overcome the country’s deep crisis is an event. The last time King Juan Carlos intervened this overtly in Spanish politics was to confound the attempted coup of February 1981 against the young democracy emerging from the Franco dictatorship. The current eurozone and Spanish fiscal crises, a contracting economy with record unemployed, and the looming constitutional crunch over Catalan separatism, together amount to a national emergency at least as serious.

In 1981, the young king appeared on television at midnight and ordered the plotters to stand down. His open letter this week is unlikely to be as decisive. The monarchy has been tarnished by scandal. And the king is trying to supply the statesmanship of which the present government of Mariano Rajoy seems incapable.

Despite winning an absolute majority in last November’s general election, Mr Rajoy and his centre-right Partido Popular prefer to rule by decree, disdaining any need to build consensus, or even properly inform the public. The prime minister himself speaks seldom, in public, in parliament, or to the press. He initially pushed through valuable reforms, for example to Spain’s labour laws, but often seems to be an opportunist with no sense of timing.

Damagingly, the government delayed its first budget until elections in Andalucia – which the PP lost. The suspicion now is that Mr Rajoy is delaying any request for an EU bailout until after elections in his native Galicia and the Basque country next month. To be fair, Madrid has yet see a penny of the €100bn bank aid the EU agreed in June. Yet the malaise is deep.

King Juan Carlos, in his letter, made two basic points. He warned against “chasing pipe-dreams” – universally seen in Spain as a shot across separatist bows – and summoned up the spirit of unity behind the “democratic transition” from dictatorship.

Yet it is the government’s job to seek compromises with the Catalans and Basques. Mr Rajoy today meets Artur Mas, the head of Catalonia’s autonomous government. Unless he can make a plausible gesture towards Catalan demands, separatism will become unstoppable, whatever the king says.

But King Juan Carlos is right to refer to the transition from Franco. To confront the present emergency Spain needs a multi-party national accord like the 1977 Moncloa Pacts that charted Spain’s path to democracy. That too is the job of the politicians, not the monarch.