Difficult days for the King of Spain


The headlines might sing but the reaction is far from in harmony. As the King of Spain made his second speech in two weeks on the Catalonia crisis, social media is alive with controversial comments. The front of the newspapers might focus on the main lines about unity but the response on websites and social media is far from together. King Felipe VI is facing a storm of resentment in a turbulent time. The next few weeks look very hard indeed.


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The latest words from Felipe came at the annual Princesa de Asturias Awards held in Oviedo. The yearly event honours people in a range of areas including literature and sport. Usually, the main question asked is when Leonor, Princess of Asturias will attend the event which was started during her father's time as Spanish heir to the throne. This time round, the debate is much more furious.






King Felipe VI used his speech during the prize giving to make reference to the situation which is gripping Spain. The disputed referendum on Catalan independence, held on the first day of this month and now often referred to as 1-O, saw police use force to move on people from polling stations and resulted in almost 900 injured. Felipe addressed Spain on television several days later, saying that those who had organised the referendum had 'broken the democratic principles of the rule of law'. Now, he has told his country that Catalonia ''is and will remain'' part of Spain.



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The reaction to both speeches displays the deep divisions in society following the referendum. There were comments of ''Viva El Rey'' immediately afterwards but, as has become habitual in the days following 1-O, there were also plenty of questions asked about Felipe's role. Scroll through the response to the tweets on the official Casa Real account and you will find clusters asking who elected Felipe and many more questioning what say those in Catalonia have in their future. The response on the websites of papers like El Pais is just as divided with plenty remarking, again, that Felipe himself can't call on his own mandate. There are, of course, even angrier and more combative comments. Keeping it to politics, the real problem for King Felipe seems to be an underlying impression that some don't see him displaying the inclusivity they expect at a time of crisis.



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There are other issues for the royal family. Felipe and Letizia have barely been seen in public since the disputed referendum on October 1st. The royal couple, with their two daughters, took part in the annual military parade in Madrid marking Spain's National Day. The Queen of Spain held an audience inside the Zarzuela Palace a few days later and King Felipe has met several dignitaries and politicians. The trip to Oviedo, although a regular in their royal calendars, has taken on a new significance this year. It is a rare chance for them to communicate on a wider level and the reaction to it has shown that if they were hoping for an overriding success, they will have to look again.



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To say they looked uncomfortable during this now rare public foray is perhaps an overstatement but this was far from a relaxed series of appearances. Queen Sofia joined them for the main event, the presentation of the Princess of Asturias Awards, but her body language spoke volumes. Remember, this is a consort who has lived through several series of political problems and she clearly feels less than positive about the situation her royal family finds itself in now.



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For the future is very tough for her beloved son, King Felipe VI. With the government in Madrid saying it will trigger Article 155 of the Spanish constitution which will, temporarily, impose direct rule on Catalonia and with talk of fresh elections in the region, the political map of Spain is ever moving. If a set of fresh general elections were called, the country might well find itself in the state of political paralysis that gripped it in 2016 and which, again, was a tough test for Felipe.




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That is, in part, speculative debate about the future but the House of Bourbon is facing a crisis as bad as any it has known recently. With limited opportunities to reach out through public appearances and no sign of a let up in the sometimes fierce response to Felipe's interventions, the next few weeks look hard for this king who just three months ago was making headlines around the world for different reasons during his highly successful State Visit to the UK. Gone are the days when a few words in Catalan during his Christmas speech were enough. Felipe must now take on the challenge presented by the independence referendum and his public reaction to it. This is the moment of truth for Europe's newest monarch.

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