Relational frictions in European monarchies

As part of their course Current Trends in Leadership and Change (LFCS05), LFC students have written blog posts about resilience, circular economy practices, stakeholder relations, conflicts in organizations and relational frictions in European monarchies.

Inspired by the political regimes in European countries and their implication in relational leadership, this blog post will investigate the oldest form of sovereignty still present around this continent: monarchies. As monarchies are significantly distinct in Europe’s political landscape, this text is going to focus on the state of relational leadership in monarchical systems. Therefore, the emphasis is hereinafter placed on the political relations of monarchs with the executive power of their country. The blog post briefly introduces the contemporary monarchs’ political role before shifting the focus to the United Kingdom and Spain, where relevant cases to this topic have arisen.

(Boy Wearing Crown Statue. Mike, 2016)

In today’s complex world, transnational issues and challenges call to revisit the literature on leadership in order to foster innovative solutions and sustainable change. As the concept of leadership can often be summarized as a unilateral relationship, it can be displayed in a relation between a myriad of actors carrying their own interests from a wide range of societal sectors as well. Exploring this path, Leading Change in a Complex World (Kangas et al., 2019) dedicates seven of its chapters to the concept of relational leadership and highlighting different dimensions in various levels and fields of decision-making with a transdisciplinary approach.

Among those chapters, the concept of relational leadership is addressed through the customer-company dynamics, as well by the relationship between presidents and prime ministers in Finnish, Romanian, and Lithuanian semi-presidential systems. Inspired by the political regimes in European countries and their implication in relational leadership, this blog post will investigate the oldest form of sovereignty still present around this continent: monarchies. As monarchies are significantly distinct in Europe’s political landscape, this text is going to focus on the state of relational leadership in monarchical systems. Therefore, the emphasis is hereinafter placed on the political relations of monarchs with the executive power of their country. We briefly introduce the contemporary monarchs’ political role before shifting the focus to the United Kingdom and Spain, where relevant cases to this topic have arisen.

Quick overview of the European monarchies 

To set foot on accurate grounds, a short trip is first necessary to shape up our subject. Magone (2015) briefly defines a monarchy as sovereign territory governed by a king, queen or grand duke. He also states that nowadays, every monarchy in Europe is a parliamentary monarchy, meaning that the monarch has relatively few powers while the prime minister (PM) and the cabinet are dominant in the executive branch. This differentiates monarchies in Europe from absolute monarchies that still exist in some countries outside of Europe.

In those parliamentary monarchies, the prime minister takes care of the substantial matters and leads the governance of the country. On the other hand, the king or queen has so-called residual powers, often referred to as symbolic, preventing their actions from overlapping with the parliament’s democratic process (Magone, 2015). These now-limited royal powers are generally enlisted in the constitution or are part of conventions. However, the power dynamics between the monarch and the government differ slightly for each country’s national settings, Stepan, Linz, and Minoves (2014) address. They also state that, even though the monarchical authority is delimited, the monarch’s power is still theoretically significant. Next, we’ll move on to two cases to examine the leadership dynamics in the United Kingdom and Spain.

Queen’s role in the United Kingdom 

Relational leadership can be found in the United Kingdom (UK), which is one of the most famous and oldest monarchies in the world. Bogdanor (1995) mentions that the British monarchy is known as a constitutional monarchy, where therefore the royal authority in the UK is delimited by the constitution and unwritten conventions. The Royal Household (2019a) highlights that the Royal family represents the head of state, as they maintain the country’s history and culture and have the effect to manifest the national identity. Nevertheless, the Queen has a tight connection with the Prime minister. They ought to meet on a regular basis to discuss state matters, which means that the government must “involve” the Crown in every decision that is made as the Crown Dependencies Team (n.d.) explains. Yet, in practice, the Queen’s legitimacy and independence are fairly limited when it comes down to making decisions.

In order to eliminate risks of crisis or tension, the Queen has to approve legal documents and decisions that fit the Prime minister and government’s agenda. A recent episode in British politics illustrates this peculiar relation, when PM Boris Johnson introduced the Brexit project. Casalicchio (2019) expressed that the Queen had to agree to a decision that led to a national crisis; for the Queen to approve the Brexit, it revealed the weakness of the Queen in the governmental British affairs. Hence, the royal role has become more of a ceremonial role and less of a formal central authority (Royal Household, 2019b).

Spanish King’s interference in politics

The Spanish monarchy is, on paper, another case of what we refer to as merely symbolic. However, in the recent history of Spain one can observe an example of interference in the regular proceedings of politics in the country. Even though the possibility to act as a political actor in domestic affairs is not depicted among the king’s duties (Casa Real, n.d), Felipe VI broadcasted an institutional declaration on the 3rd of October 2017. The speech’s target was the Catalonian government and its implication in the illegal referendum organised previously on October 1st. One of the most critical parts of the discourse was his reference to the Spanish state powers to end what he qualified an “inadmissible disloyalty” (Piña, 2017).

Under the concept of relational leadership, this conflict is especially interesting since the Spanish government, then led by the People’s Party (right-wing), disagreed with the Head of the State (Santos and Ruiz-Sierra, 2018). Thus, it is possible to say that the mechanisms of relational leadership failed to work in this context, most likely due to the King’s involvement into politics, normally forbidden space of royal influence. Therefore, the Spanish case can reveal failure to implement practical conflict-solving tools in relational leadership.

Failure of relational leadership in European monarchies 

In the previous lines, the cases of the UK and Spain were introduced to show some anomalies in the relational leadership in European monarchies. Traditionally, kings have enjoyed an absolute power during their regimes, fact completely incompatible with modern democratic systems. Nowadays, the existing monarchies in Europe are built together with a parliament, even though the roles are completely different. As it has been discussed, monarchs are often relegated to foreign affairs and act as ambassadors for the country. The domestic affairs are thus assigned primarily to the executive power and the parliament.

In both of the cases mentioned above, a functional relational leadership couldn’t manifest since the mechanisms to bring equilibrium were not being effective. In the case of Spain, the role of the King is defined and commonly understood as the ambassador of the country. It is interesting to see how he broke that principle to interfere in politics, dismissing the recommendations of the government. On another note, United Kingdom’s Queen not only acted passively as she has been doing for decades but yield to the wishes of the executive led by PM Johnson. Therefore, the role of the monarch in both cases is more of a problem for leadership than a solution. The lack of cooperation, probably emanating from the absolute power of monarchs in past centuries, makes these parliamentary monarchies dysfunctional and difficult to compare to the versatility of semi-presidential regimes such as Finland.

For future research it would be interesting to discuss about the case of Switzerland, which uses a completely different form of government based on citizen participation. This is expressed through federalism and direct democracy, since citizens can challenge any law passed by the federal assembly. Dissimilar to many other European states, it does not have a president or prime minister and the country’s citizens are at the pinnacle of power. Unlike monarchies, this form of government can be seen as a more modern form of government, taking the relational leadership from the relation among political actors to the relation between those actors and the population.

This blog post was compiled by Alberto Monroy Trujillo, Inés Barturen, Victor Théorêt, Tyche Van der Wielen, Mirjam Scwitter and Loriin Sheble.

References

Bogdanor, V. (1995). The Monarchy and the Constitution. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Casa Real (n.d.). Las funciones del Jefe del Estado. Retrieved from https://www.casareal.es/ES/corona/Paginas/la-corona-hoy_papel-jefe.aspx

Casalicchio, E. (2019). A royal mess: How Brexit has tarnished the crown. Politico. Retrieved from https://www.politico.eu/article/a-royal-mess-queen-elizabeth/

Crown Dependencies Team (n.d.). Fact sheet on the UK’s relationship with the Crown Dependencies. Ministry of Justice. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/734590/crown-dependencies-factsheet.pdf

Kangas, A., Kujala, J., Heikkinen, A., Lönnqvist, A., Laihonen, H., & Bethwaite, J. (2019). Leading Change in a Complex World: Transdisciplinary Perspectives. Tampere University Press.

Koninklijk, H. (2018). Monarchie. Retrieved from https://www.koninklijkhuis.nl/onderwerpen/themas/monarchie

Magone, J. M. (2015). Routledge handbook of European politics. Abingdon: Routledge.

Mike. (Photographer) (2016). Boy wearing crown statue. [Photograph]. Retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/art-carving-close-up-crown-189528/

Piña, R. (2017). El Rey emplaza a los “poderes del Estado” a acabar con la “deslealtad inadmisible” de la Generalitat. El Mundo. Retrieved from https://www.elmundo.es/espana/2017/10/03/59d3bb0e22601d92318b45a7.html

Royal Household (2019a). The role of the Monarchy. Retrieved from: https://www.royal.uk/about-site

Royal Household (2019b). The Queen and government. Retrieved from: https://www.royal.uk/queen-and-government

Santos, P. & Ruiz-Sierra, J. (2017). El Rey pronunció el discurso del 3-O pese a las dudas del Gobierno. El Periódico. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from: https://www.elperiodico.com/es/politica/20181002/rey-discurso-3o-dudas-gobierno-rajoy-7066927

Stepan, A., Linz, J. J., & Minoves, J. F. (2014). Democratic parliamentary democraties. Journal of Democracy, 25(2), pp. 35–51. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/jod.2014.0032 

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