When Spanish king Felipe VI arrived on Thursday evening for the awarding of the Princess of Girona prizes at the Catalan locality of Vilablareix, near Girona, the only authority present to give him the normal welcome required under protocol was the Spanish government's representative in Catalonia, Teresa Cunillera. There was nobody from the Catalan government, nor from the municipalities where the ceremony was being held. However, for his entire visit, the king managed to ignore the serious political crisis provoked by the split between the monarchy and the Catalan institutions, and he limited himself to appealing to a "Catalonia of everyone and for everyone" which, as he put it, contributed to the "great accord for democratic and civic harmony in freedom, which culminated in our Constitution".
Felipe VI, who arrived accompanied by queen Letizia and Spain's science minister Pedro Duque, asserted that in his discourse he wanted to reaffirm his commitment to "the characteristics and values that have made Catalonia great". Outside the hall where the awards were to be presented, rain was falling with varying levels of intensity all afternoon. A few hundred yards away, the Mossos police had cut the access road as a result of protests by local pro-independence Committees for Defence of the Republic. It had not been possible to hold the event in the Girona Auditorium this year and the Girona city council had made it clear that it did not intend to allow the use of the Auditorium by the Princess of Girona Foundation in the future.
Historical institutions of self-government
The monarch, in his discourse, evoked the words that he had spoken on the visit to Catalonia made just days after being proclaimed king in 2014, when he appealed to a Catalonia that "loves a language, Catalan, which, in permanent, sincere and enriching dialogue and harmony with the Castilian language, is an element without which it is not possible to understand the culture of this land which so deeply loves its traditions".
"A Catalonia with its historical institutions of self-government and proud of its personality", he continued. And "a land that is welcoming, inclusive and integrative, respectful of difference, open and plural, that has always been on the cutting-edge of culture and the economy".
The king gave his speech mostly in Catalan, even the last section, which he started by reaffirming the principles of the Princess of Girona Foundation, created in 2009 to fund programmes to benefit youth.
Remaining in Girona
Felipe reiterated his commitments to the youth of Catalonia and Spain, "which is as important as the future of our country", to Girona and its counties "and the Foundation's intention to remain in this land".
At the start of his address, he had given "very special" thanks to the Roca brothers and family - the award-winning chefs who this year had provided a venue for the hosting of the prizes, after the institutional rejection which has grown since the king's notorious speech on October 3rd made it impossible for the awards to be held in Girona. As well, before concluding the prize-giving expressed his gratitude "in a very special way on this occasion" to all those who had taken part in the event.
At the conclusion of the monarch's speech, the audience present gave him a very long round of applause. "It is a very significant ovation", said the presenter of the event, journalist Pepa Bueno.
This was Felipe VI's second visit Catalonia in less than a week, following last Friday's declaration by Catalonia's president, Quim Torra, that members of the Catalan government will cease to take part in events attended by the monarch and, by the same token, Spain's head of state will not be invited to events called by the Catalan government.