By Mick Krever, CNN
Spain’s King Juan Carlos, who announced Monday he would abdicate, prevented the country from falling prey to extremism and made sure it remained democratic, Constantine II, former king of Greece, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“His legacy is very, very important,” Constantine II, who is Juan Carlos’ brother-in-law, said. “He went through a very difficult period to do that. But I was convinced that he would overcome all the difficulties, and he has done that.”
The monarch will step down after 40 years on the throne and hand power to his 46-year-old son, Crown Prince Felipe.
“Although I'm not party to his decision,” Constantine II said, “I suspect that he considered that forty years is quite substantial.”
“And so the difficulty is to find the right moment; I believe that he has done that. He has found the right moment.”
In 1969, Juan Carlos was designated successor to the dictator Francisco Franco; when Franco died in 1975, he successfully steered his country back to democracy.
“I can tell you that Franco must have been – if we look at the history books – the only historical autocrat who prepared the future of his country.”
“And King Juan Carlos has not only proved that he kept Spain democratic; but he also made Spain with the support of the elected government a very, very strong, democratic country for Europe.”
He has not, however, been immune to scandal. Just two years ago, with the country deep in economic malaise, he went on an elephant-hunting trip to Africa.
“I don't know the details of it,” Constantine II said. “But as I don't hunt myself in Africa or hunt wild animals like that – it's very difficult to judge. But in any case, he got over it. And I don't think he will ever do that again.”
Is it time, Amanpour asked, for monarchies to be faded out writ large?
“That can only happen if the people of the different countries that have a constitutional monarchy don't want it anymore.”
Many European countries, he said, are democratic, successful – and have monarchies.
“In Belgium and Holland, they are all the same; in Norway, Sweden, they all have extremely young people running their countries and young monarchs.”
“Countries are still democratic and extremely well oriented.”