Madrid is waking up to a weekend both unwanted and unexpected. In less than 24 hours, everything in the city has changed. And that raises questions for Spain’s king, Felipe VI.
On October 9th 2020, the Spanish government used constitutional powers to impose a state of alarm on Madrid in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus. New rules mean that residents are banned from entering and leaving the city unless for work, education or commercial purposes. Social gatherings are now limited to six people, the same number imposed for family get togethers. There are thousands of police on standby to ensure the rules are kept to and on the first morning of this new ‘state of alarm’, papers are already asking whether it will be extended beyond its current length of fifteen days.
Felipe VI was back in Madrid by the time the rule change came in, having spent the morning in Barcelona with his Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez. The two were attending an awards event celebrating economic achievement but this rather routine day out was already spiced with controversy, coming just weeks after the King of Spain pulled out of a ceremony for new judges in the Catalan city after intervention from the government. The two men were all smiles but by the time they were back in the capital, a new political row had exploded as the conservative run regional authority in Madrid attacked the socialist government of Pedro Sanchez for imposing restrictions it said weren’t needed as infection rates have started to fall. However, ministers said not enough was being done by the Madrid authorities and without intervention, the situation would continue to worsen.
The timing is tricky for Felipe. Just as Pedro Sanchez walks into a major row with political opponents, the most recent images show him smiling besides the king as the two toured businesses in Catalonia, a region responsible a sizeable chunk of Spain’s GDP. But the issues raised by the latest state of alarm aren’t just financial. They came at the start of a long weekend in Spain. October 12th is the country’s national day and a holiday and thousands were planning trips or family get togethers, all now changed by the state of alarm. And that long weekend is another potential dilemma for the king.
For on October 12th, Felipe leads the country as it celebrates its heritage, unity and culture. There is usually a military parade and a reception, all with the Royal Family at its helm. The pandemic already meant changes to that but now, with Madrid on mini lockdown, the question arises as to what the king can be seen to be doing at a time when many are unhappy that they can do very little other than go to work or school. Currently, the royal diary merely states the purpose of the celebration rather than describing any possible events.
Three days later, King Felipe and Queen Letizia, along with their daughters, Princess Leonor and Infanta Sofia, are due to travel to Oviedo for the Princess of Asturias awards. That journey would be permitted as it is for work purposes and would see the royals outside the capital for three days. There is nothing to stop the trip going ahead but it will come at a time of growing political unease.
Of course, King Felipe is used to that and has just navigated a turbulent summer which saw the very role of the Monarchy brought into question by some politicians. However, if he was hoping for a more peaceful autumn, that dream may well now have faded.