THE SPANISH KINGDOM AS VIEWED BY ITS NEW MONARCH: His Much-Awaited First Christmas Speech

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Having bestowed their approval on Felipe VI, his people were anxious to hear what he had to say in his first Christmas speech.
The televised speech, a traditional fare in Spanish homes on Christmas Eve just as families are gathered around their Nochebuena dinner,
went over big with the audiences

 

EDITOR’S BLOG

By Rose Maramba

Just before his symbolic coronation (no Spanish king wears the crown since the Catholic Monarchs in the 16th century) on 19 June 2014 in the Spanish Parliament, the would-be King Felipe VI of Spain’s approval rating was 7.3 on a scale of 1 to 10, ahead of his father Juan Carlos I who announced his abdication early that month, according to a poll conducted by Metroscopia for the Spanish daily El País.

King Juan Carlos I, father of Felipe VI, in 1971, four years before he ascended the throne of Spain

King Juan Carlos I, father of Felipe VI, in 1971, four years before he ascended the throne of Spain

Those were turbulent times for the Spanish monarchy. Though the much-appreciated King Juan Carlos exited with a decent 6.9 approval rating despite the scandals surrounding the royal family, a worrying 62% of the Spanish people clamored for a referendum that would let them choose between monarchy and a Third Republic.

Six months later, at Christmastime, a survey for the conservative newspaper La Razon not only showed that the great majority of the people (72.7%) see the reign of Felipe VI as “good” or “very good.” The strong republican sentiment at the time of his father’s abdication is now a non-issue. What’s more, 61.2% of the respondents think the new king should, surprisingly, participate more actively in solving political problems, particularly the Catalan secessionism.

Having bestowed their approval on Felipe VI, his people were now anxious to hear what he had to say in his first Christmas speech.

The televised speech, a traditional fare in Spanish homes on Christmas Eve, broadcast at 9:00 PM just as families are gathered around their Nochebuena dinner, went over big with the audiences. Its share of audience was 73.4% or  8241000 viewers, 1661000 more than those who watched  Juan Carlos on his last Christmas speech (2013) though falling short of the royal abdicant’s peak in 2000 when Juan Carlos’ audience averaged 9140000 or an audience share of 87.2%.

Felipe VI has shown that he was aware of his people’s plight and wasn’t riding on the government’s overbright presentation of Spain’s economic recovery: “It is a very positive fact that the macroeconomy has improved and that . . . we have recovered the capacity to create jobs. This data forms a new basis for the hope that more jobs can be generated in a sustainable manner in the future, specially quality jobs [emphases supplied].”

Felipe VI was obviously alluding to the fact that most of the jobs being created are precarious and short-term.

The king seemed to want to show the people that he was on their side:  “We must protect the people, specially the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. For this reason we should go on guaranteeing the continuity of our welfare state.” That system has been virtually dismantled under the austerity program in this long period of economic hardship.

In the less-than-13-minute speech, he had time to mention welfare state twice: To “guarantee our welfare state” is one of “our greatest challenges,” he said.

The duchess of Palma de Mallorca Cristina de Borbon y Grecia, sister of the king

The Infanta Cristina, sister of King Felipe VI

If the Spanish people are most concerned about the staggering +23% unemployment rate, their second source of deep disenchantment is corruption, leading to feelings of outrage with public as well as private institutions. Felipe VI was vehement about this: “We have to relentlessly fight corruption (Debemos cortar de raíz y sin contemplaciones la corrupción). Honesty among the public servants is a basic pillar of our national life [and is indispensable to] a country that is healthy and clean.”

Contrary to what many expected, he did not name his sister, the Infanta Cristina to whom he had always been so close but who is now formally charged as an accessory to the money laundering and embezzlement racket allegedly perpetrated by her husband, Duke of Palma Iñaki Urdangarin.  But the viewers knew that if she was found guilty, he would not interfere in the meting out of justice.

Another issue that has been troubling Spain is the secessionism of Catalonia. And Felipe did not shirk the issue. He spoke of respecting the Constitution which prohibits that very separatism: “Let us respect the Constitution which is the guarantee of our democratic, orderly and peaceful national life.  Let us go on constructing a common project that respects our plurality and which generates hope and confidence in the future.”

Pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona, Catalonia, 2010

Pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona, Catalonia, 2010

He said that “every region, every town and village in Spain, every person has given the best of themselves in order to benefit everyone else – and, of course, Catalonia has contributed to the political stability and economic progress that Spain now enjoys…  Millions of Spaniards hold Catalonia close to their hearts, just as millions of the Catalans consider the rest of the Spanish people as part of themselves. That is why the thought of rejections between families, friends or citizens hurts and worries me.”

Alluding to the tendency of Catalonia to consider itself a victim of the central government in Madrid, he added that “today nobody in Spain is anybody’s adversary.”

The Catalans must somehow trust the young king to play fair. There was certainly a considerable interest of the Catalans in Felipe VI’s speech which was the most viewed program on the regional public television, TV-3, at the time.

Felipe made a brief but impassioned mention of his father whom he loves and admires unconditionally, and his abdication in June, leading to his own proclamation as the new king which, he said, was an example of sobriety and dignity made possible by the Constitution.

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The card sent out by the King and Queen and their daughters to wish the people a Merry Christmas

He spoke of common effort, of preserving the unity of the Spanish people in whose cultural diversity lies its strength, to regenerate the country’s political life and recover the faith in their institutions. He admitted that it wouldn’t be an easy task but he said that the key to success was in the people’s recovering their self-confidence and faith in a solidary, modern and profoundly democratic Spain. And he promised he would always be there with them in their endeavor.

He closed his speech wishing everyone in the different languages spoken in Spain “Feliz Navidad, Eguberri on, Con Nadal, Boas Festas” on behalf of his wife Queen Letizia and their lovely daughters, Princess of Asturias Leonor and Infanta Sofia.

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Images
>Featured image/topmost photo: Coat of Arms of Spain
>King Juan Carlos by Jack E. Kightlinger. Uploaded by Jbarta (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Jbarta)
>Demonstration in Barcelona y Pere prlpz (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Pere_prlpz) CC-By-SA 3.0
>Infanta Cristina by FishInWater (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:FishInWater) CC-By-SA 2.0