The king, committed to the rescue of a Spain that is going through difficult times. Fifth Christmas message of the reign of Felipe VI, the third with Catalonia as a "serious concern" hanging over the future of Spain. Concern both internally - Pedro Sánchez's formation of a new government still in the air - and externally, after the blow to Spanish justice delivered by the EU court ruling on the immunity of Oriol Junqueras. In the face of all this, the monarch has appealed for confidence in Spain and emphasized the "soundness of our state", while citing constitutional values such as "concord" to deal with the situation.
The name "Catalonia" was only used once in the 1,457 words of the 12 minute 18 second speech (anthem included), but it soaked through the discourse from beginning to end. First of all, Felipe VI outlined a general picture of "times of great uncertainty, of deep and rapid changes" that cause "concern and restlessness" both inside and outside Spain. Among these difficulties, he cited elements ranging from the new technological and digital age to climate change, mentioning in passing the "direction of the European Union". And then immediately he situated Catalonia among "the serious concerns we have in Spain", beside the "consequences of the technological revolution for social cohesion" and "the deterioration of trust of many citizens in institutions" - among them, of course, the monarchy.
The head of the Spanish state was speaking in one of the state rooms of the Zarzuela palace in Madrid. On a chest of drawers you could see a photograph of the Spanish royal family with 41 people awarded the Order of Civil Merit "in recognition of their personal commitment and social contribution".
New government still up in the air
After a provisional government for eight months, following the failure of Pedro Sánchez to build a majority after this year's first Spanish election in April, and still without a new government fully guaranteed since the repeat election on 10th November - with everything depending on the formation of an accord with the Catalan party ERC - the king commented that "it is up to the Congress to make the decision which it considers most appropriate for the general interest of all Spaniards".
At the same time, the monarch again emphasized that "these are not easy times". Said the Bourbon king: "More than ever, we must have firm confidence in ourselves and in Spain, which has always been able to open a path when we have faced the future with responsibility, with generosity and rigour; with determination, but also with reflection and serenity."
Most of Felipe VI's message was devoted to asserting a positive image of Spain at a time when European justice and public opinion have again called it into democratic question after the European Court of Justice's ruling on the immunity de Oriol Junqueras as an MEP. A severe setback for the Supreme Court, which tried pro-independence leaders and convicted them to harsh sentences, and as a consequence of that - and hanging particularly on the recommendations due to be given by Spain's State Solicitors - is the investiture of Sánchez as new prime minister. The ERC party is calling for a gesture - and the annulment of the case.
In the face of this, Felipe VI sought to dispel doubts by emphasizing that Spain "lives according to the values and attitudes shared with other free and democratic societies" and that "it is not isolated, but very open to the world." Ideas very similar to those advocated by the failed Global Spain platform, with which the Sánchez government has sought to combat the Catalan independence movement in international forums. And in that line he stated, "we can be very proud of the values that our citizens inspire (...) and the solidity of our state."
In the monarch's view, this constitutes "a substantiated reality that we must value", and given that, "we must not fall into extremes, nor into a self-complacency that silences our shortcomings or mistakes, nor into destructive self-criticism that denies the great civic, social and political heritage we have accumulated." And this is the closest thing to a very timid attempt at self-criticism - weak allusions to shortcomings and mistakes - that appeared in the message, despite the harsh criticism he has received for his role in the process, and especially in the wake of the severe speech on October 3rd, 2017, considered by broad sectors in Catalonia as an endorsement of the repression of independence.
Concord, without prisoners or exiles
What had been heard up to this point was the most "militant" part of the head of state's Christmas speech, which, for the third consecutive year, avoided referring to the repression against the independence movement, despite the distance he maintains from the majority of Catalan society. Perhaps for that reason, the final part of the message was an attempt - also a very forced one - to reach out, actually more in line with the interests of Sánchez's investiture, which depends on ERC to move forward, than an authentic offer of reconciliation and amnesty, such as that of Spain's post-Franco transition, which included a consideration of political prisoners and pro-independence exiles.
The king of Spain once again limited himself to vindicating the "values" of the 1978 Spanish constitution, among which he quoted, first of all, "the desire for concord", which he said, "thanks to the responsibility, affection, generosity, dialogue and respect among people of very different ideologies, demolished walls of intolerance, resentment and incomprehension."
Secondly, he referred to "the will to understand and integrate our differences within the respect for our constitution, which recognizes the territorial diversity that defines us and preserves the unity that gives us strength." Thirdly, he cited "the defence and encouragement of solidarity, equality and freedom as the central principles of our society".
Felipe VI closed his message by once again asking Spain to face "the challenges", without divisions or confrontations, he said. "We have great potential as a country. We think big. We move forward with ambition. We all work together and we know how to do things, and we know the path to take", he concluded before giving festive and new year greetings in Basque, Catalan and Galician as well as Spanish.