Felipe ascends the Spanish throne in ‘frugal’ celebration

Europe’s newest king appears keen to learn from mistakes of elephant-hunting father

Prince Felipe and King Juan Carlos of Spain attend the official abdication ceremony at the Royal Palace in Madrid yesterday. The abdication took effect from midnight. Photograph: Getty

Prince Felipe and King Juan Carlos of Spain attend the official abdication ceremony at the Royal Palace in Madrid yesterday. The abdication took effect from midnight. Photograph: Getty

Thu, Jun 19, 2014, 10:45

Crown Prince Felipe has ascended to the Spanish throne with guests feasting on tapas nibbles washed down with cava, in a budget buffet celebration.

The economic crisis that has left a quarter of Spaniards out of work prompted Europe’s newest king to be relatively frugal at his proclamation.

The crown prince’s father, Juan Carlos, 76, misjudged public anger at financial hardship when he went on an elephant-hunting safari in Africa and Felipe, 46, appears keen to show he is more in tune with his countrymen — avoiding the mistakes of his abdicating predecessor.

The landmark occasion was perhaps most notable for what it did not include: no state banquet, no foreign royals or heads of state, no ostentatious ceremonies or parades.

By royal standards, it was humble: reception guests were being served hot and cold tapas-style nibbles, to be eaten while standing. There was no champagne, just sparkling cava wine from Spain’s Catalonia region.

“More than anything, this is a message. What they want to say is, ‘We’re in a moment when sobriety in spending shows a certain sense of solidarity in a time of economic difficulty’,” Navarra University history professor Pablo Perez Lopez said.

Juan Carlos signed legislation yesterday, approved by parliament earlier this month, setting out the legal framework for the handover.

The retiring monarch, who underwent a hip replacement operation last November, used a walking stick and moved with difficulty during the televised signing ceremony.

Felipe is to be formally proclaimed monarch and swear an oath at a ceremony with MPs in parliament today. It will be a no-frills event, though the 18th-century Spanish crown and 17th-century sceptre will be on display.

After a brief military parade, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia will take a drive through expected crowds along some of Madrid’s most emblematic streets and monuments — such as the Prado Museum and the Cibeles fountain.

The palace acknowledged that the customary pomp had been eliminated “in keeping with the criteria of austerity that the times recommend”.

Juan Carlos announced his surprise decision to abdicate on June 2nd, saying he was stepping aside after a four-decade reign to allow for younger royal blood to rally a country that is still trying to shrug off a double-dip recession and 26 per cent jobless unemployment.

During most of his reign, the monarch was held in high esteem for his role in helping steer the country from military dictatorship to democracy. He took over the throne in 1975, two days after the death of long-time dictator General Francisco Franco, then endeared himself to many by making army rebels stand down during an attempted military coup in 1981.

More recently, however, the royal family’s image was tarnished by Juan Carlos’s 2012 Botswana hunting trip. Another scandal saw his youngest daughter, Princess Cristina, give evidence this year in the fraud and money-laundering case engulfing her husband, Olympic handball medallist-turned businessman Inaki Urdangarin.

The abdication announcement initially triggered widespread demonstrations calling for a referendum on reinstating a republic. But a recent poll found that while 62 per cent of respondents said they wanted a referendum on the monarchy “at some point”, 49 per cent said they favoured a monarchy with Felipe as king, while only 36 per cent wanted a republic. Others did not answer or expressed no opinion.

Felipe holds a law degree from Madrid’s Autonomous University and obtained a master’s in international relations from Georgetown University in Washington. His wife is a former television journalist and a divorced commoner. Many people feel that record will help make Felipe more attuned to the public mood.

Diego Garcia, the Complutense professor, believes Spain is going to see “a more austere monarchy, one closer to the people and the reality of the country”.

The 2,000 guests invited to the royal reception were from a wide range of Spanish society, including Madrid ambassadors as well as representatives from the business, cultural, media and sports sectors.

Authorities have prohibited a planned demonstration in Madrid today by people demanding an end to the monarchy.

The palace said it had no information on the overall cost of the events, which will be overseen by around 7,000 police.

PA