Spain’s King Felipe VI called for national unity and a defence of Spain’s Constitution that have been put under strain by the Catalan secession crisis in his traditional Christmas Eve address.

The monarch asked in his televised speech for Spaniards to “maintain our shared democratic values to resolve our problems, without divisions or confrontations that erode our sense of harmonious co-existence and impoverish our future”.

Felipe credited Spain’s Constitution of 1987 that restored democratic rule after four decades of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco with the growth in the country’s standards of living, individual rights, and cultural achievements.

“It is the result, ultimately, of the millions of Spaniards, who thanks to our Constitution, have been able to share the same values that set the foundation for our peaceful co-existence, our greatest common gains, our feelings and ideas,” he said.

Spain Soccer Clasico Protest
Catalan pro-independence demonstrators (Joan Mateu/AP)

Spain has been embroiled for years in a political crisis caused by the separatist movement in wealthy northeastern Catalonia, which saw its first bouts of violent protests in 2019.

Spain’s Constitution recognises Catalan and other minority languages as co-official with Spanish, but many Catalans who favour secession say they no longer feel represented by the Constitution or the Royal House.

Felipe named Catalonia as one of the principal hurdles facing Spain over the coming year, along with chronically high unemployment, anxiety over the technological revolution, as well as “the course of the European Union, migration, gender inequality in the workplace, climate change and sustainability”.

King Felipe of Spain (Ballesteros/AP)

The 51-year-old Felipe VI assumed the throne in 2014 after his father Juan Carlos abdicated.