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Spain News & King: Prince Felipe Talks Unemployment, Unity in First Speech as Symbolic Leader

First Posted: Jun 06, 2014 03:42 PM EDT
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Spain's future king, Crown Prince Felipe, spoke Wednesday about the many issues facing Spain in his first speech since his father, Juan Carlos, abdicated the throne. 

Prince Felipe, 46, spoke about the country's burgeoning separatist factions and rampant unemployment during his speech at a cultural award ceremony at a church in northeastern Spain, according to The Associated Press

Felipe, who will serve as a symbolic figurehead of the country, noted Spain's 25 percent jobless rate and the recent push for Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain, to secede from the country. 

"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. 

He said that Spain is simultaneously "united and diverse."

His wife, Princess Letizia, was in attendance during the speech, sitting by his side during the ceremony. 

Felipe will become King Felipe VI as early as June 18.

King Juan Carlos announced Monday that he was abdicating the throne because his country needs new leadership, and he believes his son is ready to take the reins. 

While many thought Juan Carlos stepped down due to his frail health, many also cited the recent scandals that drew public furor against the 76-year-old king. 

Juan Carlos' youngest daughter's husband is being charged with embezzling public monies that were meant for a philanthropic organization. Juan Carlos himself also drew public ire when it was discovered that he went on a lavish elephant hunting trip to Botswana in 2012, the height of the country's economic recession. 

Experts on the Spanish royal family say Felipe will be well-prepared to rule. 

"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," Mary Vincent, a professor of modern European history at Britain's University of Sheffield, told The Associated Press

Felipe is well-liked for staying clear of the scandals in his family. According to the El Mundo newspaper, his popularity is at 70 percent, while Juan Carlos' sits at a low 41 percent.  

"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."

When crowned, he will be Europe's youngest king, and will benefit from the popular support for his wife Letizia, 41, a former television journalist who is considered to be Spain's first middle class princess, and soon queen.

The future king, who is an imposing presence at 6 feet 5 inches, speaks fluent English and French, and can give speeches in Spain's other official languages of Catalan, Basque and Gallego, The Associated Press reports. 

He has a law degree from Autonomous University in Madrid, and a master's degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He is also a military helicopter pilot, and holds ranks in all branches of Spain's armed services. He is also a yachtsman, and was on the Spanish Olympic sailing team that came in 6th place at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. 

He travels abroad often, and frequently visits Latin America to attend presidential inaugurations and bolster cultural and business ties with the Latin continent. He replaced his father on may trips as of late due to Juan Carlos' physical ailments. 

While he was criticized for dating a Norwegian model in the 1990s -- a big deviation from what is considered socially acceptable in the monarchy -- he won widespread public approval when he married Letizia, a non-blue blood divorcee. 

Similar to British Princess Kate Middleton, who is also a commoner, future queen Letizia is known for her glamorous fashion sense. 

"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."

Letizia and Felipe have two daughters, aged 8 and 7, and are known for talking to regular Spaniards when they go out for walks, with security guards nearby. 

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