Felipe’s accession to the Spanish throne has not brought a change in the crown’s position on the subject of Spain’s multi-national nature and the debate over Catalonia’s territorial fit. Last night, in his first formal Christmas message, King Felipe made it clear that defending Spain’s unity --while acknowledging its internal diversity-- will be a priority during his reign. The one question where his stance clearly differs from his father’s (King Juan Carlos) is the fight against corruption, which now has taken the front seat and the new king spoke about it in the strongest terms. Recent events dictate that much.
After weeks when the PP government has been under attack for trying to bring every area of power in line with its policies, the stamp of Rajoy’s cabinet was also visible in the new king’s speech. This was especially noticeable when he referred to the Catalan independence bid and the economy’s outlook. Last night the king endorsed the Spanish government’s views and any hopes that Felipe might take on a mediating role in the Catalan political conflict vanished altogether. The only concession he made was a call on dialogue, while making it clear that the rules set in 1978 --and, therefore, Spain’s national sovereignty-- are untouchable.
The king was aware that his words would be scrutinised, as they practically set the foundations of a new era. So, just before the start of an electoral year whose outcome is uncertain, he tried to show that he is in touch with the man in the street. That’s why he mentioned the main issues of the current political agenda: unemployment, democratic regeneration (although he never mentioned his sister, who is about to sit in the dock) and the territorial crisis. On this last point, he called on preventing independence and approached the matter mainly from the point of view of interpersonal relationships, as the Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz --among others-- has done on a number of occasions. The Spanish king said that it “pains” and “worries” him that “emotional fractures, rejection and quarrels could occur among families, friends and the general public”. And he added that “in Spain today, nobody is anyone’s adversary”, but failed to note that the Catalan independence movement has built a project that is largely positive and shuns any confrontation between identities.
As he fully endorsed the criterion of the main Spanish parties, he emphasised that Spain is a single nation, albeit a diverse one. According to him, “Spain’s strength” lies in this diversity and, therefore, he called on everyone “to understand and respect it”. “The strength of our union will allow us to get better and further in a world that rejects weakness and social splits as it moves towards even greater integration”. This is the argument often used by the Spanish president, especially after meetings of the European Council, to support the idea that Catalan interests will be better defended in the EU if Catalonia remains part of a larger whole. The monarch has taken onboard the notion that, in a global world, fragmentation is penalised, even when it’s democratic.
The considerations based on emotional bonds and criteria of efficiency were not the only ones he used to justify his opposition to Catalan independence. He also used a legal argument. He recalled how during the Transition “our historic and political union was enshrined”, while preserving the respect for the various languages, cultures and traditions in Spain. He stated that Catalonia “has a special place” in his heart; he demanded “respect” for the 1978 Constitution because it is “the guarantee of us living together democratically, freely, peacefully and with order”. He then added that “disagreements can’t be resolved with emotional or sentimental breakups. Let us all strive to be reunited again, loyally and sincerely, in all that we should never lose: mutual affection and shared feelings”. However, he made no mention to the political solutions suggested by some, such as a federal reformation of the Constitution.
Given that the Nóos case has hit the monarchy in Spain full on, everyone was keen to hear what the king might say on the matter of corruption. More so since the wear and tear of the Spanish crown in recent years --and its loss of legitimacy in the eyes of the public-- finally prompted King Juan Carlos to resign in June, in an attempt to bring in an urgent and much-needed renovation. Without ever mentioning his sister Cristina, King Felipe was very clear: “we must nip corruption in the bud, with no qualms”. According to him, corrupt individuals “are already being brought to justice”, which proves the rule of law in Spain. His sister will be tried in Majorca.
He referred to himself as the “first servant” and admitted that the trickle of corruption cases degrades the public’s trust in their leaders, a dynamic which --he insisted-- must be ended. “The general public must be certain that public funds are spent according to the law; that nobody benefits from being in a position of authority; that being in office is not a means to become rich or profiteer; that our prestige and good image abroad won’t be tarnished”, he said. He demanded a “profound regeneration of our collective life” because corruption causes “indignation and disillusion; and rightly so”.
As 2015 approaches, fighting unemployment remains one of the three top challenges set by the monarch, together with preserving Spain’s unity and bringing in measures to improve the quality of democracy. He also adopted the PP’s argument on economic matters, admitting that the unemployment figures are “unacceptable” but that there are reasons to be hopeful --he claimed-- when you look at the macroeconomic indicators. “It is a fact (...) that we have started to grow and create jobs”.
The new king’s first TV Christmas message had an underlying purpose: to persuade the social majority to make an effort and believe again that the State can work, after several co-occurring crises have shaken the public’s trust. Funnily enough, he mentioned the “political stability” in Spain as one of the country’s assets. In his speech King Felipe made no direct positive reference to his father, King Juan Carlos, and he finished his message wishing everyone a “Happy Christmas” in the four cooficial languages. Today the political parties will state their views on the speech.
A less formal setting in the Zarzuela Palace
New king, new setting. The Spanish monarch chose to speak to his audience in a less formal setting than his father, although his predecessor had eventually adopted a new communicative language and he even spoke while leaning on a desk. King Felipe avoided using an office, which would have been less warm and personal, and recorded his message in a room inside the Zarzuela Palace, where institutional elements such as the Spanish flag were combined with more personal touches, like three photographs and a nativity scene. The pictures had been strategically placed. Nearest the new Head of State was a photo of himself with his wife, Queen Letízia, smiling on-board their royal airplane. Next was another photo with their two children. Furthest was a picture showing the new king shaking hands with his father, a symbol of the royal handover that took place halfway through this year. His mother, Queen Sofía, could also be seen. That is the extent of the Spanish royal family. The setting also included a few Christmas items that made the scene feel warmer.