IN A break from tradition, Spain’s King Felipe VI used his televised Christmas Eve address to focus on just one issue: the Spanish Constitution and the very future cohesion of the country.
The 55-year-old monarch chose this theme after a year of high political tensions in Spain, ranging from the inconclusive July 23 general election, which eventually saw Socialist Party Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez retake power in November, to the amnesty deal he had to do with Catalan separatists to get another term in office in the first place.
“Outside of respect for the Constitution there is no democracy or coexistence possible; there are no freedoms but imposition; there is no law, but arbitrariness,” Felipe said during his speech, making one of a number of veiled references.
While he did not specifically mention the amnesty law, which will see anyone involved in the Catalan independence drive over the last decade absolved of any charges, commentators understood that this was what the king was referring to, and could have been a message as much for separatists as the Sanchez government itself of the risks of pushing Spain toward a territorial breakup.
When the amnesty deal was agreed between the Socialists and the Catalan parties ERC and Junts per Catalunya, there were regular protests in central Madrid over most of November. At some of these protests, far-right demonstrators focused their slogans against the king – firstly for having invited Sanchez to form a government (as was his constitutional duty), and secondly for not intervening to stop the amnesty deal from going ahead (something that is beyond his powers).
Felipe appeared to reference these attitudes too.
“Each institution, starting with the king himself, must position itself in the corresponding place according to the Constitution, carry out the functions that it has been assigned, and meet the obligations and duties that the Constitution specifies,” he said.
He described the Spanish Constitution, which came into force 45 years ago as the country made its transition from the Franco dictatorship to democracy, as the ‘greatest political success’ in the recent history of Spain, calling it the ‘culmination of a process that deserved an extraordinary international admiration and recognition’.
The speech was well received by Spanish newspapers, with an editorial in leftist daily El Pais pointing out how, on few occasions before, the king had ‘expressed himself with such precision in defence of Constitutional values’.
The conservative Partido Popular and far-right Vox, meanwhile, interpreted his words as tacit criticism for the amnesty deal.
Leftist political parties, however, slammed Felipe’s speech.
Sumar, a new alliance that is the Socialists’ junior partner in government, deplored his choice to avoid mention of any social issues, with the group’s spokesperson in Congress, Marta Lois, calling the speech ‘disappointing’.
Leftist Podemos, meanwhile, a junior coalition partner in the last Sanchez administration and until a recent split a part of Sumar, suggested that Felipe could be Spain’s last monarch. Party leader Ione Belarra said that the Spanish monarchy had ‘been left behind’, and slammed his failure to mention the plight of the Palestinian people as Israel continues its offensive against Hamas.