Last night, King Felipe of Spain made an unprecedented speech to address Sunday’s events in Catalonia: police attempted to prevent locals from entering their ballots in what had been declared an ‘illegal’ vote by the Spanish government, voting on independence for the Catalan region.
In his speech, the King defended the Spanish Constitution and criticised the ‘irresponsible’ federal Catalan government for staging the illegal referendum, which had not been authorised by the central government.
The independence referendum caused chaos in the region, with rubber bullets being fired at voters and protestors, batons being used against them, people being forcefully removed, and police clashing with firefighters who stood in a protective ring around voters.
In addition to reiterating that the vote was illegal, Felipe addressed ‘all Spanish people’ in what he described as a ‘serious time’ for democracy in the country. He then went on to criticise the Catalan authorities, claiming they have not just undermined Spanish solidarity, but could also threaten the country’s economic and social stability.
The King also dedicated a portion of his speech solely to the Catalans, stressing that Spain has constitutional methods in place for all Spanish citizens to defend their beliefs; however, a disregard for the constitution and laws makes it impossible for democracy to survive in a peaceful and free society. The youngest European Monarch also told those who were against the idea of secession that they are not, and never will be, alone and have the support of the rest of Spain.
More than 90% of people voted for the region to become independent at the ballot box, although only half of Catalonia’s registered voters participated.
Felipe reconfirmed the Crown’s support of the 1978 constitution and the government, as well as stressing that he stood for unity and harmony amongst the Spanish people. However, just hours after the King’s speech, the President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, pledged that local authorities would begin the process of secession by the end of the week.
This was a significant move by the Spanish Monarchy, as the family can only exercise a very limited amount of power over politics. According to the Constitution, the role is largely ceremonial; Felipe is the recognised Head of State, designed to unite the people. Although he can represent Spain in matters of international relations, all political actions taken by the King must be countersigned and approved by the government, including his speeches.
After the death of General Franco in 1975, there have been two main occasions on which Felipe’s father, the former King Juan Carlos, intervened in politics: he was a key figure during the transition to democracy, and stepped in to help calm matters after the attempted coup by the military in 1981.
Similar to Queen Elizabeth II, the Spanish King traditionally only addresses the nation with a speech at Christmas. The full speech, in Spanish, has been published on the Casa Real website.