Spain’s King Felipe VI on Monday presided the official opening of the new political term, addressing a Congress of Deputies partly occupied by the first coalition government since the 1930s, and where separatist lawmakers were conspicuously absent.
“Spain cannot be about opposing one another. Spain must belong to everyone and be for everyone,” said the monarch to the lawmakers who won seats at the repeat general election of November 10, 2019.
While Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) won the election, he struggled to secure enough parliamentary support to form a government. His new Cabinet, which includes members of the leftist Unidas Podemos group, was sworn in last month.
In a measured speech that avoided any direct mention of the ongoing independence drive in Catalonia, King Felipe urged political parties to work to restore citizens’ trust in their institutions, and to seek cross-party agreements.
“The Constitution is the meeting place for the various ways in which people feel about Spain, respecting a plurality of views,” he said. “The essence of the parliamentary system rests on agreement.”
According to separatist lawmakers, the monarchy is “an anachronistic institution” and “an heir to Francoism”
The remarks were made inside the most fragmented parliament since Spain’s democratic transition in the late 1970s: there are currently representatives from 17 parties in the lower house of parliament, including three Catalan separatist groups.
During a 19-minute speech, Felipe VI said that “the time has come for words, for arguments and for reasoning, from a position of mutual respect.” At the close of his remarks the monarch received a four-minute ovation.
But 49 lawmakers from five regional parties – three from Catalonia, one from the Basque Country and one from Galicia – refused to attend the session and instead read out a statement of their own earlier in the day titled: “We have no king.”
“The Spanish monarchy and its top representative, the king of Spain, do not represent us,” said Gabriel Rufián of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), a separatist party that helped Pedro Sánchez get confirmed in office in exchange for the promise of talks on the future of Catalonia. According to the statement read by Rufián, the monarchy is “an anachronistic institution” and “an heir to Francoism” whose goal is “to maintain and impose the unity of Spain and its laws.”
Congressional speaker Meritxell Batet gave a speech of her own stating that “democracy is not, and cannot be, about exclusion. Inside parliament, there is no such thing as the enemy.
“Despite our discrepancies, and perhaps because of them, more than ever we need to restore consensus – political, social and territorial,” she continued. “It is not easy, but it will only be possible through daily commitment and effort, within the framework of democratic procedures and respect for the law.”
English version by Susana Urra.