The Spanish Bourbon family is one of the oldest royal lines in Europe, having survived centuries of bloody wars and attempted coups, a Napoleonic invasion and more than one impotent heir. But if Spaniards have suddenly begun imagining themselves without a King, it isn't for any of those historically respectable reasons. It's because of elephants.
On April 14, Spain awoke to the news that King Juan Carlos had broken his hip while elephant hunting in Botswana.
Spaniards generally hold the king in high regard for his service to the nation and his defense of democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 -- especially the king's decisive stand to halt a right-wing military coup in 1981.
But after news emerged of the expensive hunting trip, with widespread Spanish media reports that it included the hunting of elephants, even normally-staunch political allies of the monarch said publicly that they considered the timing of the trip a mistake.
Spain, the eurozone's fourth-largest economy, is just now just three notches above so-called junk status. Earlier this week, the Bank of Spain confirmed that the country had entered a technical recession - tow consecutive quarters of negative growth.
The country's economic problems have become the epicenter Europe's debt crisis in recent weeks as investors worry over Spain's ability to push through austerity and reforms at a time of recession and mass unemployment.
Spanish industrial production fell at an accelerated pace in February, the latest sign that the euro zone's fourth-largest economy remains mired in contraction, as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed renewed support for deep spending cuts.
Industrial production declined 5.1% in February from a year earlier in calendar-adjusted terms after sliding 4.3% in January, because of lower activity in the construction and car-manufacturing sectors, statistics agency Instituto Nacional de Estadística, or INE, said on Wednesday. Spain's industrial output hasn't posted growth in a year.
Spain's new conservative government announced 27 billion euros ($35 billion) in cuts from the budget this year to reduce the deficit in the midst of the nation's prolonged economic crisis.
"We are in a critical situation. This is the most austere budget in our democracy, and with tax measures to bring in new income to guarantee public services," Treasury Minister Cristobal Montoro said after the weekly Cabinet meeting.
The most obvious difference with Spain is its level of sovereign debt. The Spanish government is just not burdened as heavily by debt as many of its peers in Europe. According to OECD data, Spain’s ratio of government debt to GDP (under 63%) is significantly lower than either Portugal’s or Greece’s (and for that matter, is below France’s and Germany’s, the giants of the euro zone and supposed pillars of strength). Nor does Spain have a record of fiscal profligacy like Greece.
The country enjoyed a long boom after joining the euro zone, as low interest rates fueled a surge in construction that produced eye-popping growth. That crashed with the 2008 financial crisis, and the resulting recession sent Spain’s unemployment rate soaring to the highest among euro nations. Spain has also seen its deficits swell and has been forced to pay high interest rates as investors worried about its solvency.
Spain's economy grew 3.4% last year, over twice the euro-zone average, and is expected to best the average again this year by a full percentage point. Spanish companies like phone-giant Telefónica, construction and infrastructure consortium Grupo Ferrovial, real estate developer Metrovacesa and financial conglomerate Santander Group have become Continent-wide — and even global — players.
The Spanish population now numbers more than 46 million, according to the definitive register for Jan. 1, 2008, published Monday by the National Statistics Institute, or INE.
On Jan. 1, 2008, nearly 46.16 million people were registered in Spain, 957,085 more than the year before, an increase of 2.12 percent.
Located at the crossroads of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Europe and Africa, Spain's history and culture are made up of a rich mix of diverse elements.
Through exploration and conquest, Spain became a world power in the 16th century, and it maintained a vast overseas empire until the early 19th century.