Spanish king Felipe VI has given his second Christmas message with the Catalan independence process as its central question. And without anything new. The monarch, entrenched in his position, speaking sternly, warned of the need to "defend" social harmony and to "respect" the Constitution, which he referred to as a "live reality" after the recent 40th anniversary commemorations.
If the summit held in the Pedralbes palace in Barcelona between the Spanish and Catalan heads of governments, Pedro Sánchez and Quim Torra, seemed to open an (uncertain) path to political dialogue, the traditional Christmas message from the Spanish head of state has put the conflict back where it was, days before the trial of the pro-independence leaders starts in January in the Supreme Court.
The message was recorded in the Zarzuela palace, and is the first Felipe VI has made with a PSOE prime minister. "It's essential that we guarantee our social harmony at all times", he said, after evoking the process by which the Constitution was drafted and recalling the need for "the rules which belong to everyone to be respected by all".
He made only one allusion to dialogue, and that was when he recalled the "wishes" of Spanish citizens and their political, economic and social leaders "to reach agreements, despite there being large differences between their ideas and feelings", during the transition to democracy after the Franco regime. The monarch cited his own speech for the 40th anniversary of the Constitution, and the values of "reconciliation and harmony, dialogue, understanding, integration and solidarity".
According to the king, social harmony "is based on consideration and respect for people, for others' ideas and rights", "requires that we care for and strengthen the deep ties that unite us and always have to unite us all as Spaniards" and is "incompatible with rancour and resentment".
"Overcoming great problems and injustices can never come from division, and by no means from confrontation, but only from agreement and union in the face of challenges and difficulties," the monarch said. These words are not difficult to link with the breaking off of relations with the monarchy by the Catalan government headed by Quim Torra and the censuring of the king by the Catalan Parliament, as well as by numerous town councils around the country.
A live, not inert reality
"A social harmony, therefore, which demands respect for our Constitution, which isn't an inert reality, but a live reality, which shelters, protects and guards over our rights and freedoms," he said.
Felipe VI thus confirmed the validity and continuity of the regime built in Spain on the end of the Franco dictatorship and, implicitly, the monarchy he heads against ambitions for reform, at a time when the institution is under close questioning.
"Social harmony (which is always fragile, let us not forget) is the greatest asset we have as Spaniards," he said. "And, as such, we have to avoid it deteriorating or eroding; we have to defend it, care for it, protect it, and do so with responsibility and conviction".
No change, therefore, from the tough line Felipe VI has followed over the Catalan question after the independence movement accused him of having given cover to the repression and "a por ellos" (go get them) attitude with his message on 3rd October 2017, two days after the independence referendum, in which he called to "guarantee the constitutional order" in Catalonia.
Like his Christmas speech last year, the king has not taken the opportunity to deescalate the conflict at a time of the greatest distance between the monarchy and the Catalan institutions and society.
The monarch ended his message with Christmas best wishes in Basque, Catalan, Galician and Spanish.