King’s speech on Catalonia ‘felt like a declaration of hostility’

It was a king's speech that left many Catalans dismayed -- no mention of those hurt in police violence when they tried to vote in a banned weekend independence referendum, no mention of dialogue.

King's speech on Catalonia 'felt like a declaration of hostility'
King Felipe VI addresses the nation on October 3rd. Photo: AFP/ Handout Casa Real/Francisco Gomez

Instead, Spain's King Felipe VI sided squarely with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government on Tuesday evening as he addressed the nation over an escalating crisis between Catalan separatist leaders and Madrid.

And with his camp clearly chosen, analysts said the head of state paved the way for Madrid to apply drastic measures to slow down Catalonia's independence drive — risking his very monarchy in the process.

Felipe VI came down hard on Catalan authorities, which organised Sunday's referendum on independence even after they had been told by Madrid they could not go ahead with a vote deemed unconstitutional.

Accusing them of “disloyalty” and being “completely on the margins of law and democracy”, the King said the state had to “ensure constitutional order”.

'Declaration of hostility'

Ana Romero, a journalist specialising in Spain's royal family, said that with this position, the 49-year-old sovereign made a risky bet.

“What will happen at the end of all this will determine the success or failure of his reign,” she told AFP.

If, despite Madrid's best efforts, Catalonia becomes independent — still a very hypothetical step — this could lead to a domino effect in Spain with other regions demanding to split from the country.

“Everything that is Spain is in danger, including its institutional make-up, and the key to the Spanish institutional make-up is the king,” said Romero, who is finishing a book on the King, in power since 2014.

On top of that is a rise in anti-monarchy sentiments and the emergence of republican party Podemos.

“He is defending his house, his crown, the future of his daughter (Princess Leonor).”

Abel Hernandez, another journalist and expert in the monarchy, said he “bet everything on one card”.

“If this ends badly for him, it's over.”

Several analysts drew a parallel with the stern intervention of Felipe's father Juan Carlos on the night of February 23rd 1981 when he appeared on television, dressed in military garb, and staved off an attempted coup.

That speech won the then king legitimacy among Spaniards still unsure about a monarch who was installed by dictator Francisco Franco before he died in 1975.

But at that time, all Spaniards were on one side — that of democracy — Romero said.

The Catalan separatist crisis, though, “is much more complicated” as it divides Catalans among themselves, and with the rest of Spain, said Romero.

'Ignoring millions of Catalans' 

As such, the King may have added fuel to fire.

By taking a hard stance against pro-independence Catalans, he alienated many in the 7.5-million-strong region in “a very firm and very hard” manner, Romero said.

“The King has adopted the (national) government's position and policies which have been disastrous with regard to Catalonia. He is deliberately ignoring millions of Catalans,” Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said in a televised address on Wednesday.

Jose Apezarena, Felipe VI's biographer, pointed out that “the word 'dialogue' was absent from the speech”.

He did not talk about police either, under fire for having brutally repressed the vote, in some cases using batons and rubber bullets to stop people from casting their ballot.

At least 90 people were injured, according to regional authorities, and these were also absent from his speech.

“You would have expected a conciliatory position,” said Oriol Beltran, a Catalan professor of anthropology.

But “it felt like a declaration of hostility”.

Jordi Turull, spokesman for the Catalan government, accused the monarchy of “adding fuel to the fire”.

The feared article 155

For analysts, the uncompromising speech paves the way for more radical measures.

“With this speech, the king opens the door to all measures included in the Constitution to restore constitutional order,” said Fermin Urbiola, the author of books on the Spanish monarchy and other European royal families.

One of these could be to invoke article 155 of the Constitution, which allows the state to take powers away from a semi-autonomous region of Spain if “it doesn't fulfil the duties imposed by the Constitution or other laws”.

“There is no going back” after the speech, said Hernandez.

For members


14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain