Spanish king and head of state Felipe VI has this Wednesday officially opened the country's 15th legislature in the 44 years of its post-Franco democracy. He did so without the presence of the pro-independence parties. The The Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Together for Catalonia (Junts), the Basque party EH Bildu and the Galician MP of BNG snubbed the Spanish monarch in an act that was merely ceremonial: opening the legislature that will begin with a law granting an amnesty to all those whose legal pursuit Felipe VI himself encouraged in his speech on October 3rd, 2017. Today's address was the king's first since the amnesty became a parliamentary bill and Sánchez extended his tenancy in the Moncloa palace thanks to the agreements with the pro-independence parties.
During his speech, Felipe VI urged Sánchez to guarantee the "unity" of Spain. "The obligation of all the institutions is to bequeath to younger Spaniards a solid and united Spain, without divisions or confrontations," the monarch argued. This is the phrase in which, in a veiled form, Felipe VI gave a pronouncement on the issue which is currently central in Spanish politics. The king also praised the Constitution; his speech pivoted around the defence of the Spanish law of laws, of 1978. He also defended "democratic coexistence" between the people.
Speaking to a chamber filled with most of the senators and deputies, and alongside queen Letícia and princess Leonor, the monarch defended Spain as a nation and as a "shared reality", claiming that defending the Constitution does not mean "looking back with nostalgia", but rather, that the document is a "proud and conscious reaffirmation of our best abilities". Due to all of this, after congratulating Pedro Sánchez for having obtained the support to become Spanish prime minister once again, he recalled the "deep significance" that, in his opinion, was implied in the agreement that led to the 1978 Constitution, and he asked to "honour its spirit, respect it and fulfill it".
This Wednesday's event is, essentially, a protocol event that must be celebrated when the legislature begins, but it is tradition for the Spanish king to wait and set a date for this event once the government has been formed. Thus for the first time, it was Pedro Sánchez's new executive on the blue benches of the hemisphere, which, despite being a continuist cabinet, has a clear absence: there is no Podemos minister sitting in the front row of the Congress of Deputies.
Felipe VI delivered his speech just after the Bureau of Congress, with the PSOE and Sumar forming its majority, authorized the processing of the amnesty bill. The last time the Spanish king made an act of political gesticulation was hours after the lower house gave its confidence to Pedro Sánchez and reinvested him as Spanish PM. In a reception for the speaker of Congress, Francina Armengol, at the Palau de la Zarzuela, Felipe VI wore a sour expression, over an investiture that was directly linked to the accord made for an amnesty for pro-independence leaders and supporters. And he kept up the unfriendly look when he received the new Spanish prime minister.
The absence of ERC, Junts, Bildu and BNG
Felipe VI did not have the deputies of Junts, ERC, Bildu and BNG before him, after these parties decided to stand him up once again. In fact, the last three signed a joint statement this Wednesday in which they assert that the Spanish king "has no legitimacy" for the Catalan, Basque and Galician peoples, and that they do not recognize "any political function" for the monarchic figure.
Armengol defends legitimacy of PSOE pacts with Junts and ERC
The event was opened by an address from the speaker, Francina Armengol, who set out a fierce defence of the PSOE pacts with the pro-independence parties to form a government: "The decision of this parliamentary majority is legitimate and emanates from the will of the people exercised on July 23rd". A message obviously aimed at the People's Party (PP) and far-right Vox, whom she accused, between the lines, of "distorting reality or questioning important democratic values", which she said will "only increase society's disaffection towards institutions".
In her speech, Armengol took pride in having regulated for the ability to use the so-called co-official languages of the state (Catalan, Basque, Galician and Aranese) based on the defence of a "plural Spain, of consensus, dialogue and agreement". "The real Spain, made up of different people and towns that, based on the recognition of diversity, has a new opportunity to move forward", she added. As well, Armengol paraphrased the poet Joan Margarit in calling for a "definitive ceasefire" in the Gaza Strip: "The only weapon, dialogue".
Armengol's speech irritated the PP bench, which did not applaud it at the end. The leader of the main right-wing party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, declared that Armengol had given "the worst speech by a speaker of Congress that I can remember", asserting that it was a partisan speech. "It is unfortunate. When the speaker is not the speaker of all senators and MPs and simply behaves like a party deputy, she does not deserve applause", complained the head of the opposition, who stated that "applause for this provocation is totally inappropriate".
The tortuous path of the amnesty bill
The law intending to clean the slate over Catalan independence prosecutions has become the cross that the PP and Vox have undertaken to bear, having promised to try to block it wherever they can. For this reason, the Constitutional Court is preparing for an avalanche of appeals against the text, of which the judges will have to apply the consequences on the beneficiaries. And Felipe VI will have to sanction a law that, according to some voices, is the most important since the approval of the Spanish Constitution in 1978. A tortuous legislative path awaits until it sees the light definitively and its effects are applied.