There had been widespread expectation over the content of the king's traditional Christmas message to Spaniards, and not only amongst political circles. It was anticipated that Don Juan Carlos would make some reference, albeit indirectly and in a generic sense, to the problem created for the royal family by Iñaki Urdangarin, the husband of Princess Cristina. The Royal Household had already publically described the conduct of Urdangarin in his private business dealings within the ambit of the Nóos Instititute as "not exemplary." The king's son-in-law oversaw the non-profit organization until mid-2006 and is now being investigated for alleged misappropriation of public funds.
In fact, the king devoted the central portion of his speech to the scandal, although he did not expressly cite Urdangarin at any moment. The monarch admitted to feeling enormous concern over the damage caused to the credibility and prestige of the crown amongst public opinion, and he backed the role of the courts in dealing with any such irregular conduct. While the Spanish crown continues to enjoy the affection of a majority of Spaniards, episodes such as the one involving the Infanta Cristina's husband have contributed to the royal family's popularity having fallen somewhat in recent times.
The king talked of the need for "rigor, responsibility and exemplariness among those who represent public institutions," and of the unavoidable necessity under the rule of law that "any untoward action must be judged and punished according to the law." In the current context, it is noteworthy that he underlined these observations in the following way, albeit to state the obvious: "Everyone is equal under the law."
In terms of the "not exemplary" behavior of Urdangarin, which has put the Royal Household in a difficult position as well as damaging the image of the crown, public censure of his relative's conduct and the promise of greater transparency in the future management of the funds the king and his family receive from the state budget constitute a brave reaction on the part of the monarch. It is also not the kind of response we are used to seeing on the part of state institutions when under fire.
That public criticism of Urdangarin's conduct has not infringed upon his right to the presumption of innocence. The royal family is an institutionalized family, subject to certain behavioral restraints. Any member who contravenes these special rules thus commits acts which can be termed unbecoming of someone in their position, regardless of the judicial treatment they receive. What can be demanded of the judiciary is that it determines as quickly as possible what accusations are to be leveled at Urdangarin, as the current delay in doing so only encourages the formulation of premature judgments which could create a problem in terms of his right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
As well as being a token of the "sincerity and realism" with which Don Juan Carlos says he wishes to talk to Spaniards, it was natural that much of his Christmas message should focus on the financial and economic crisis, and the grave consequences it continues to have on families and the job market, with almost five million Spanish workers currently unemployed. Unfortunately, this issue has been a fixture in these royal messages since 2008. This year, the king freely recognized the "global nature" of the crisis, and the necessity of combating it within the context of the European Union.
Also worth highlighting is the commitment expressed by King Juan Carlos to working from within the institution of the crown to help create an atmosphere of unity and cohesion in the new political environment as the Popular Party takes up the reins of government after beating the Socialists in November's general elections.
Terrorism again cropped up in the Christmas speech but, after ETA's announcement this year of a "definitive" end to violence, on this occasion it was not a case of condemning attacks, but rather telling the terrorists that the time has come for them to "hand over their murderous weapons" while also offering much-deserved homage to the victims.