YESA, Spain (AP) — In his first speech since he was tapped to become king, Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe on Wednesday spoke delicately about the need for unity in the Mediterranean country that has been hit by separatist fervor and crushing unemployment.
Sticking to protocol as the future symbolic leader of Spain’s constitutional monarchy, Felipe got his point across without mentioning by name Spain’s two biggest problems: The drive in the northeastern region of Catalonia for a secession referendum and the nation’s 25 percent jobless rate.
“In the difficult times like those we are going through, the experience of times past shaped in history show us that only by uniting our hard work, putting the common good in front of special interests and promoting initiative and … the creativity of each person, we succeed in advancing toward better scenarios,” Felipe said at a cultural award ceremony in an ancient church in northeastern Spain.
Watched attentively by his wife Princess Letizia, Felipe characterized Spain as both “united and diverse.”
The crown prince will become King Felipe VI as early as June 18 following Monday’s announcement by King Juan Carlos that he will abdicate because his son is ready for the job and because the country needs new royal blood to lead it.
Royalty experts said Felipe’s appearance gave strong hints that the 46-year-old crown prince will be a discreet and well-prepared ruler, his regal style molded by decades of preparation in Spain and abroad.
“He’s a man with a duty and a job to do and the careful and constant training he has had will play out in a dignified, politically adept but quite bland sort of way,” said Mary Vincent, a professor of modern European history at Britain’s University of Sheffield.
Europe’s youngest king will be averse to scandals that have tainted Spain’s royal family in recent years and will benefit from strong popular support for Letizia, 41, a former television journalist dubbed the country’s first “Middle Class Queen” in Spanish media this week.
“He is young man who has been trained from birth for the job,” said Hugo Vickers, a British historian and European royalty expert. “And he seems to have a proactive, glamorous wife.”
Juan Carlos is widely respected for leading Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy and staring down a 1981 coup attempt. But his reputation took a big blow following a secret 2012 elephant hunting trip to Botswana at the height of Spain’s financial crisis plus a corruption investigation targeting a son-in-law.
“If Felipe stays out of trouble and does a good job he’ll recuperate some of the public feeling his father has lost,” Vincent said. “I am sure he won’t be hunting any elephants.”
Standing just shy of 2 meters (6 feet, 5 inches) tall, the crown prince speaks fluent English and French and can give speeches in Spain’s additional official languages of Basque, Catalan and Gallego. He graduated with a law degree from Madrid’s Autonomous University and has a master’s degree from Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
He frequently travels abroad on official state business and especially to Latin America to attend presidential inaugurations and boost Spanish business interests and cultural ties. With his father’s health declining in recent years, Felipe has already replaced Juan Carlos on many trips.
The crown prince is a military helicopter pilot who received training and holds ranks in all branches of Spain’s armed services though he’s never seen combat. An avid yachtsman, Felipe was on the Spanish Olympic sailing team that came in 6th at the 1992 games in Barcelona.
Felipe raised eyebrows in Spain when he dated a Norwegian model in the late 1990s but wowed the country when he courted and eventually married Letizia, a divorced commoner.
At their televised official engagement announcement in 2003, Letizia told Felipe to “let me finish” when he began to interrupt her while she talked about leaving her news job at TVE, Spain’s national broadcaster.
She is renowned for her fashion sense and preference for clothing from Spanish designer Felipe Varela.
“She pulls off that trick of being glamorous but recognizable. She doesn’t embarrass herself and looks dignified,” Vincent said. “She wears clothes other women imagine themselves wearing.”
The two dine out frequently, stroll in public with their daughters, aged 8 and 7, and take time to talk with regular Spaniards who approach them as security guards stand nearby.
Felipe has also managed to avoid getting tarnished by the scandals that have rocked the royal family, with a late January poll by the El Mundo newspaper showing his popularity at 70 percent, compared to his father’s 41 percent.
Clendenning reported from Madrid. Jorge Sainz contributed from Madrid.
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