Catalonia and army controversy absent from king's Christmas speech recognizing toll of pandemic

Monarch appeals to "ethical principles" over "family matters" without explicitly mentioning father

King Felipe VI of Spain (Courtesy of Spain's Royal House)
King Felipe VI of Spain (Courtesy of Spain's Royal House) / ACN

ACN | Madrid

December 24, 2020 09:23 PM

King Felipe VI of Spain's annual Christmas speech, which aired on Thursday evening, made no mention of the political situation in Catalonia, often at odds with Spanish authorities, nor was any reference made to any of the recent controversies involving the army.

Instead, the commander-in-chief of Spain's armed forces and son of the former king who left for the United Arab Emirates last August focused his speech on the health, social, and financial effects of the Covid-19 crisis.  

"We as a people do not give up," he claimed, maintaining that Spain would get through the pandemic with great "effort, unity, and solidarity."

Calling on all Spaniards to do their best to stop the spread of the deadly virus, the monarch thanked healthcare workers, the police, and the armed forces for their service during the pandemic, all the while acknowledging the "major concern" that is the dire state of the economy at the moment.

'Ethical principles' and 'family matters'

The subject of former king Juan Carlos I, who not long ago paid Spain's tax office €678,000, was not explicitly brought up either, but Felipe VI did appeal to "moral and ethical principles" that, according to him, should be placed above "family matters".

"This is what I have always believed, in alignment with my convictions and what I understand to my duties as the head of state," he maintained.

Felipe VI and Catalonia

Felipe VI drew the ire of many in Catalonia, where the monarchy was already largely unpopular, for his remarks two days after the 2017 referendum. Describing the vote organizers as "outside the law and democracy" in a speech in which he also argued the Catalan government had "attempted to appropriate Catalonia's institutions," his detractors criticize him for failing to mention that over 1,000 people were injured by the police that day.

Indeed, only hours before the monarch's televised address, parliament speaker Roger Torrent asked Felipe VI to apologize for his "infamous" October 3 statement, while Catalonia's interim president Pere Aragonès said he had "more important" things to do than to listen to his 2020 Christmas speech.

"The only royal speech that would interest me is one announcing their end," he said. "It is not rational to have someone be the head of state for the simple reason of being the son of a former king who fled."

On Thursday Jaume Asens of Catalunya En Comú Podem, a republican party that favors a referendum but not Catalan independence, urged the monarch to use his annual address to make a "gesture of self-criticism and constraint" given his father's questionable dealings.