“We do not want to give up that which we have built together,” said the king during an exceptionally emotional address at a ceremony in the northwest city of Oviedo on Friday.
He said Catalonia “is and will remain an essential part of 21st century Spain,” emphasizing that the crisis triggered by Catalonia’s banned October 1 independence referendum must be resolved “through legitimate democratic institutions.”
The Spanish king spoke as visiting European Union leaders, who are in Spain to collect a prestigious peace prize, offered their support to Madrid, with EU parliament chief Antonio Tajani cautioning that previous bids to redraw European borders have often “resulted in a hellish mess.”
Tijani, along with EU President Donald Tusk, called for respecting the law during their acceptance speeches in obvious reference to Catalonia.
“Some are sowing discord by deliberately ignoring law,” Tajani said at the event, adding, “All too often in the past the prospect of redrawing borders has been presented as a heavenly panacea that has resulted in a hellish mess.”
Autonomy is an extremely sensitive issue in Catalonia, which saw its powers taken away under Spain’s military dictatorship. The region’s population of over 7.5 million intensely defends its own language and culture.
The currently-run government in Catalonia administers its own law enforcement, education and healthcare, but local press reports indicate that Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was contemplating to seize control of the region’s police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.
Madrid further intends to force new elections in the Catalan parliament, where separatists have held a majority since 2015.
King Felipe spoke as Rajoy’s cabinet prepared to meet Saturday to set out the powers it plans to take away from Catalonia as its leader Carles Puigdemont refuses to abandon his threat to declare a breakaway state.
Speaking at an EU summit in Brussels — where the crisis has added to the woes of a bloc already struggling with Brexit — Rajoy said a “critical point” had been reached and that his government had to resort to measures aimed at halting the rule of law being “liquidated.”
Puigdemont, however, insists that he has a mandate to declare independence after the referendum, in which some 90 percent said ‘Yes’ to separation, according to figures.
This is while the turnout reportedly stood at only 43 percent as many Catalans who prefer unity stayed away from a vote which had been ruled unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron also gave vocal backing to Rajoy’s efforts to keep the country together during the EU summit in Brussels on Friday.