Felipe VI, proclaimed King of Spain today, pledged to lead a process of national renewal, saying all Spaniards should be able to live together within the nation.
“The constitution recognized our diversity as a characteristic that defines our identity,” Felipe said in the National Parliament in Madrid after swearing an oath of loyalty to the 1978 constitution.
“There is space for everyone,” he said. “All feelings and sensibilities, all the ways of feeling Spanish. Feelings, particularly at a time of European construction, should never cause conflict, divide, or exclude people.” He used the Catalan, Basque and Galician languages as well as Spanish to thank his audience at the end of his speech.
Felipe, 46, takes the throne from his father, Juan Carlos, with Spain facing challenges to its territorial and moral integrity and the economy emerging from a six-year slump.
Catalonia, the biggest regional economy, is planning a referendum on independence in November as the National Court in Madrid investigates claims that the governing People’s Party paid senior officials including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy cash payments from a secret slush fund. Rajoy denies any wrongdoing.
“Spaniards, and especially the men and women of my generation, aspire to revitalize our institutions, to reaffirm through our actions the primacy of the public interest and strengthen out democratic culture,” Felipe said, dressed in the military uniform of the commander of the country’s armed forces.
As he thanked the outgoing king and queen for their service, his mother Sofia, watching from the gallery, blew him a kiss and the chamber applauded. Juan Carlos stayed away from parliament to let his son take center stage.
Spain’s economy, the fourth-biggest among the 18 nations that share the euro, has been expanding for almost a year, though many Spaniards have yet to feel any benefit. About 5.9 million people, or 25 percent of the active population, are still unemployed, and the unemployment rate for young people is 54 percent.
“We have to send a message of hope, particularly to the youngest, that solving their problems, and especially finding work is a priority for society and for the state,” said Felipe.
Felipe arrived at the Parliament in a Rolls Royce accompanied by his wife, Queen Letizia, and his daughters, Princess Leonor, 8, who becomes heir to the throne, and 7-year-old Princess Sofia.
Earlier, Juan Carlos, 76, gave control of the Spanish military to his son, handing him the sash of the Captain General in a ceremony at his Zarzuela Palace on the edge of Madrid.
After leaving the parliament, Felipe stood as his car made its way through cheering crowds to the Royal Palace where he and Letizia greeted the crowds from the balcony and hosted a reception for more than 3,000 dignitaries, including Banco Santander SA Chairman Emilio Botin, Repsol SA Chairman Antonio Brufau and the Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Pau Gasol.
Felipe’s sister Princess Cristina, official suspect in a court investigation of tax fraud and embezzlement along with her husband, wasn’t present at today’s ceremonies.
“The crown must be close to the people, know how to win their respect and confidence” and “conduct itself with integrity, honesty, transparency,” Felipe said. “Only in that way will it create the moral authority necessary to carry out its functions.”
The center of Madrid was decked out with red and yellow Spanish flags to mark the occasion. Crowds lining the approach to the parliament building cried “Viva Espana!” as others watched from their apartment balconies. A woman at the back of the crowd perched on a step ladder to better view the proceedings.
“It’s important to come and celebrate,” said Purificacion Lozano, 62, dressed, she said, in the same red and white flamenco dress she wore on the day of Felipe’s wedding and holding a Spanish flag in each hand as she waited to salute the King. “This is a historic event.”
While the reign of Felipe’s Borbon dynasty has been interrupted by two republics and the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the tradition of constitutional monarchy in Spain dates back to the first constitution, drawn up in Cadiz in 1812 when the city was under siege by Napoleon’s French troops.
Rafael Contreras, 21, a Madrid law student dressed in a yellow tee-shirt and red shorts -- Spain’s national colors -- with a flag draped around his shoulders, cheered the new king.
“Today is important because it shows people still believe in the monarchy and in Spain,” said Contreras. “The institution is getting a new injection of life with Felipe.”