King Felipe of Spain has accused the Catalan authorities of attempting to break “the unity of Spain” and warned that their push for independence could risk the country’s social and economic stability.
In a rare and strongly worded television address on Tuesday evening, he said the Catalan government’s behaviour had “eroded the harmony and co-existence within Catalan society itself, managing, unfortunately, to divide it”.
Speaking two days after the regional government’s unilateral independence referendum, in which 90% of participants opted to secede from Spain, he described Catalan society as “fractured” but said Spain would remain united.
The king made no mention of the violence that marred the referendum when Spanish police officers raided polling stations, beat would-be voters and fired rubber bullets at crowds.
Instead, he focused on the actions of the government of the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont.
“These authorities have scorned the attachments and feelings of solidarity that have united and will unite all Spaniards,” he said. “Their irresponsible conduct could even jeopardise the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain.
He described the regional government actions as “an unacceptable attempt” to take over Catalan institutions, adding that they had placed themselves outside both democracy and the law.
“They have tried to break the unity of Spain and its national sovereignty, which is the right of all Spaniards to democratically decide their lives together,” he said.
“Given all that – and faced with this extremely grave situation, which requires the firm commitment of all to the common interest – it is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order and the normal functioning of the institution, the validity of the rule of law and the self-government of Catalonia, based on the constitution and its statute of autonomy.”
King Felipe went on to address himself to all Spaniards – “particularly the Catalans” – telling them that Spain had now lived in a state of democracy for decades and was a country in which anyone was permitted to defend their ideas as long as they respected the law.
“Without that respect, no democratic co-existence is possible in peace and liberty; neither in Catalonia, nor the rest of Spain, nor anywhere in the world.”
He said he was also well aware of the worry that the behaviour of the regional government had caused many in Catalonia.
“I tell them: they are not alone, nor will they be. They have all the support and solidarity of the rest of the Spaniards, and the absolute guarantee of our rule of law in defending their liberty and rights.
“To all Spaniards, who have been living through these events with sadness and unease, I want to send a message of calm, confidence and hope. These are difficult moments, but we will overcome them.
“They are very complicated moments, but we will forge ahead because we believe in our country and we feel proud of what we are because our democratic principles are strong and solid. And they are like that because they are based on the desire of millions and millions of Spaniards to live together in peace and freedom.”
He said the Spain of recent decades had been built on such principles and would continue to abide by them.
“On this path – in this better Spain that we all wish for – Catalonia will also be there.”
He ended the speech by saying the crown was firmly committed to the constitution and to democracy, and that he, as king, was committed “to the unity and permanence of Spain”.
His speech followed a BBC interview with Puigdemont in which he vowed to press ahead with a declaration of independence, saying the regional government would “act at the end of this week or the beginning of next”. He has previously said independence would be declared within 48 hours of a successful yes vote. He also warned the Spanish government that any attempt by Madrid to suspend regional autonomy and take control of Catalonia’s institutions would be “an error which changes everything”.