Moral and ethical principles “are an obligation for everyone without exception” and “are above all other considerations, including personal or family ones.” Those were the words uttered by Spain’s King Felipe VI on Thursday night during his televised Christmas Eve speech, in a veiled reference to the allegations of financial wrongdoing that have been mounting against his father, former monarch Juan Carlos I. The king dedicated just 87 words to the issue from a total of 1,697, the longest Christmas speech so far of his reign. The majority of the text was aimed at transmitting encouragement to a society after the suffering caused this year by the coronavirus pandemic, with Felipe calling for a “great national effort” to overcome the consequences of the health crisis.
“In 2014, during my proclamation before parliament, I referred to the moral and ethical principles that citizens called for from our conduct,” the king stated during his speech. “Principles that are an obligation for everyone without exception; and that are above any consideration whatever their nature, including those that are personal or family ones,” he added.
The words that he used to refer to his father, without mentioning him specifically, were very measured. He did not say that “justice is equal for all,” as his father Juan Carlos I in 2011, in reference to his son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarin, who was involved in a corruption scandal known as the Nóos case and eventually ended up in prison, where he is still serving out a sentence. To make such a reference would have been to recognize that the emeritus king has problems with the justice system, and, for now, the Supreme Court prosecutor is yet to file charges against Juan Carlos I for the three allegations that are being investigated.
The king opted to speak about “ethical principles,” because, even if he were to be exonerated by the courts, Juan Carlos I has filed a proposal with the Spanish Tax Agency to regularize nearly €700,000, which is in itself a supposed admission of having committed tax fraud.
Since the Royal Household announced on March 15 that Felipe VI would be stripping his father of his official stipend, as well as renouncing any inheritance that he could be due from Juan Carlos I, the king has made no reference in public to the situation of the emeritus king, who has been living in Abu Dhabi since he left Spain on August 3. This had created expectations that he could do so during his traditional Christmas Eve speech.
In the end, the monarch opted to advocate the ethical principles that, he said, had guided him since he made his speech when he ascended to the throne on June 19, 2014, underlining that the crown “should observe upright, honest and transparent conduct.” He added that these principles are above any other consideration of a personal or familial type. “That is how I have always understood it, in line with my convictions, with my way of understanding my responsibilities as head of state and with the spirit of renewal that has inspired my reign since the first day,” he added. By linking “upright, honest and transparent conduct” with a “spirit of renewal,” it can be deduced that things were not always like this within the monarchy.
Compared to the euphemistic language he used to refer to his father’s situation, the king used a direct and emotional tone to discuss the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had. He alluded to the health restrictions that have stopped many families from meeting this Christmas, to the “vacuum that cannot be filled” left behind by those who had died, and to those who are living through the “anguish of unemployment” or the sadness of having lost their business. “The year 2020 has been very hard,” he said, accepting that many will have fallen into states of “discouragement or mistrust.” Although “the situation is serious,” he continued, he called for Spaniards to face the future with determination. “Neither the virus nor the economic crisis are going to bring us down,” he said. “With effort, union and solidarity, Spain will move forward.”
After stating that the crisis will be overcome thanks to science, with vaccines – the first doses will be administrated in Spain on Sunday – and effective treatment, he stressed that “individual responsibility continues to be essential,” and called on people “not to drop their guard.”
The king warned of the risk that the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 “could result in a social crisis,” adding that young people “cannot be the losers” and calling for “protection for the most vulnerable and the fight against the inequalities that the pandemic has created or exacerbated.”
In the face of the “enormous but not insurmountable” challenges, the king called for a “huge collective effort [...], a national effort” to overcome them. Spain, he said, “has felt more united than ever in its battle and resistance” against the pandemic, and while there are “aspects that need to be improved and strengthened,” it has shown itself to be a “strong society with a solid state,” as has been shown by the armed forces, the emergency services and other public services.
EU’s “firm commitment”
The king had words of praise for the European Union’s “firm commitment” to “economic sustainability and recovery” via a reconstruction program, which for Spain will mean funds of up to €170 billion, something that offers “an opportunity to advance and progress.”
He also reiterated his commitment to the Constitution, which, he said, “all of us must respect,” given that it is “the foundation of our social and political coexistence; and it represents the success of the democracy and freedom in our history.”
In the face of the deep-seated political polarization in Spain, Felipe VI pointed out that advances in recent years “are the result of the reuniting of and the pact between Spaniards after a long period of confrontation and division.” He continued saying that “democratic values, respect for plurality and differences, and the ability to dialogue and reach agreements are principles that never lose their validity. With efforts, union and solidarity, Spain will move forward. With all of you and for all of you. And, as king, I will be there with all of you and for all of you,” he stressed, making clear his determination to be king for all Spaniards and not just a section of society.
English version by Simon Hunter.