Spain's King Felipe Urges Catalan Leaders to Act Responsibly

(Bloomberg) -- Spain’s King Felipe VI called on Catalonia’s leaders to act responsibly as they form a new government following elections that handed separatists a majority in the regional parliament.

“Catalan citizens voted to elect their representatives in the parliament who must now confront the problems that affect all Catalans, respecting plurality and thinking responsibly for the good of all," Felipe said in his annual Christmas Eve speech on Sunday night, sitting in the Zarzuela Palace with the Spanish and European Union flags behind him. The king said 2017 had been a difficult year, “marked mainly by the conflict in Catalonia," adding that Spain is a country in which everybody is free to express their thoughts without imposing them on others.

The king spoke after pro-independence parties mustered enough seats in regional elections held on Dec. 21 to be able to secure a majority in the Catalan parliament, frustrating Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s bid to snuff out the region’s drive for independence.

Rajoy had called elections in October after he disbanded the government of Catalonia and dissolved its parliament following its attempt to declare independence from Spain. The vote result gives Carles Puigdemont, the ousted Catalan president, the chance to reclaim the powers seized by Rajoy to lead a new pro-independence administration.

The King’s comments on Sunday follow his intervention in the secession crisis in October when he used a televised speech to align himself with Rajoy’s position by accusing the separatists of fracturing Catalan society and being disloyal.

Puigdemont’s efforts to form a new government won’t be straightforward. A number of pro-independence leaders are being held in jail while a judge investigates their role in an alleged rebellion against the government as the secession crisis erupted during October. Puigdemont himself faces imprisonment if he returns from Brussels, where he has been attempting to run a Catalan government in exile since late-October.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.