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Anxiety, fear and alarm have reached the Zarzuela royal palace. The Christmas address from Spain's king Felipe VI delivered on Tuesday night consists basically of two ideas: the first, that "Spain is not isolated" and, consequently, the situation it is passing through is not comparable to that of countries questioned for their denials of fundamental rights. The second, that the direction of the European Union is causing "worry and unease" in Spanish society.

Whereas his 2018 speech revolved around "social harmony" in Catalonia and emphasized the values of an "established democracy'' as a justification for the anomalous prison situation of pro-independence leaders and the repression in Catalonia, this 2019, Felipe VI shifts the political focus of his discourse to defending what has been built and, for the first time, expressing concern at the path the EU is taking. And he does so in a week when the European Court of Justice has struck an unprecedented blow against the Spanish Supreme Court, confirming Puigdemont, Junqueras and Comín as fully-fledged MEPs and has given rise to a hypothesis which is gaining strength: that the pro-independence leaders’ trial could be annulled, if not in Spain, then eventually in Europe.

Added to this is the endless list of international bodies and human rights organizations that have questioned the lengthy remand, the trial and the sentence. All this has meant that on the international scene Spain's image in the media has been deteriorating. Only in this way can one understand why, beyond the speech's stock phrases that remain the same every year, Felipe VI has in 2019 sought to lift damaged spirits and defend Spain from the accusations.

The speech contains no explicit reference to Catalonia beyond saying that "this is one of the concerns we have in Spain". In short, a poor discourse and one that is on the defensive.