Spain’s new king to be monarch ‘for new times’

Felipe appears to reach out to citizens in regions seeking independence

King Felipe VI of Spain and Queen Letizia of Spain with daughters Princess Leonor and Princess Sofia  leave the Congress of Deputies during the King’s official coronation ceremony in Madrid yesterday. Photograph: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

King Felipe VI of Spain and Queen Letizia of Spain with daughters Princess Leonor and Princess Sofia leave the Congress of Deputies during the King’s official coronation ceremony in Madrid yesterday. Photograph: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Thu, Jun 19, 2014, 21:48

Felipe VI became king of Spain yesterday, promising to breathe life into a monarchy that has been battered by scandals and reaching out to Catalan nationalists who want independence.

“I represent a new monarchy for new times,” said the 46-year-old, after being proclaimed king – Spanish monarchs are not crowned – in a short but solemn ceremony in the national Congress.

“I face my task with energy, excitement and the open and transformative spirit that inspires the men and women of my generation.”

Felipe technically became the country’s new king at midnight on Wednesday, when the abdication law his father, Juan Carlos (76), had signed off on a few hours earlier came into effect.

Although the pomp was reined in yesterday because of the ongoing economic plight of many Spaniards, people lined the streets of central Madrid to cheer the new king as he made his way in an open-top car from Congress to the royal palace. Once there, he appeared on the building’s balcony with his wife, Queen Letizia, and their two daughters, Leonor and Sofía, to wave at those who had filled the Plaza de Oriente below.

Afterwards, a reception was held at the palace for about 2,000 guests.

But for those eager to know how the new king sees his role, his 25-minute speech before the national dignitaries gathered in Congress had offered some clues.

“We want a Spain in which citizens recover and maintain confidence in their institutions,” he said, apparently acknowledging how the credibility of traditional political parties, the financial sector, the judiciary and the monarchy has been undermined in recent years, due to accusations of incompetence and corruption.

Crisis

That institutional crisis has been intensified by the context of the recent economic crisis, which has left one in four Spaniards out of work. The new king offered his “understanding and solidarity” to those who have been affected, including youngsters, over half of who are unemployed.

The succession process, which began on June 2nd when Juan Carlos announced he was abdicating, has sparked a lively debate about whether Spain should keep its monarchy. However, the government of Mariano Rajoy has rejected calls for a referendum on the issue and authorities banned republican demonstrations planned for yesterday. At least three people were arrested in central Madrid for carrying republican flags, according to reports.

In explaining his vision of the monarchy in the 21st century, the king appeared to respond to such critics. “The crown must seek intimacy with its people, know how to constantly win their appreciation, their respect and their confidence,” he said, adding that royals were required to “observe integrity, honesty and transparency”.

For many Spaniards, their royals have fallen short of such standards in recent years. Revelations that Juan Carlos had been on an elephant hunting holiday in Botswana in 2012, at the height of the economic crisis, severely damaged his popularity. Other scandals, such as an ongoing probe into Felipe’s brother-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarín, for allegedly embezzling public funds from a charity, have only made matters worse.

However, possibly Spain’s most pressing concern is a bid for independence by the northeastern region of Catalonia, which plans to hold an illegal referendum in November on a break from Spain, which has lead to a stand-off between Catalonia and Madrid.

Independence

The king appeared to reach out to Catalans – and Basques, many of whom also harbour independence ambitions – when he invoked Spain’s “diverse traditions and cultures” and highlighted the importance of regional languages. However, although Felipe VI ended his speech by thanking those present in Catalan, Basque and Galician, the regional leaders of Catalonia and the Basque Country – Artur Mas and Iñigo Urkullunigo Urkullu – appeared unimpressed and did not join the rest of the chamber in applauding.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy was among many politicians who praised the ceremony, describing it as “very nice”. However, others were critical. Gaspar Llamazares of the republican Plural Left coalition described the king’s speech as “vacuous and cliched”.