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Felipe: a new face for a beleaguered monarchy

MADRID —Spain’s king-in-waiting, Felipe VI, strikes a contrast to his more extrovert father, which could help him restore popularity to a monarchy battered in recent years by scandal.

The 46-year-old, married to photogenic former TV news anchor Letizia Ortiz, has not been implicated in the allegations of royal extravagance and corruption that have tarnished the last years of the reign of his father Juan Carlos and his relations. But the legacy of the 39-year reign of the once beloved king hangs over him and Spain no longer needs the monarchy for political stability, as it did in the past.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, announcing the abdication, said Prince Felipe was well prepared to take over.

“His preparation, his character and the wide range of experience he has been acquiring in public affairs over the last 20 years are a solid guarantee that he will be able to carry out his role,” said Rajoy.

Felipe is very different from his extravagant 76-year-old father and, while friendly in public, prefers an understated lifestyle. That could help clean up the royal image.

The prince has not been tarnished by a corruption investigation involving his brother-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, and a poll earlier this year showed 66 percent of Spaniards view him in a positive light. But support for the monarchy has fallen in recent years and the privileged lifestyle of the royals has irked many Spaniards struggling to make ends meet.

Felipe Juan Pablo y Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbon y de Grecia — his full name — is said to lack the “common touch” of his father. But he is far more at ease with people than the British royal family.

“Felipe is grounded, well-informed, has good judgement but will follow advice,” says Bieito Rubido, editor of monarchist century-old newspaper ABC. “And something which is very important in Spain — he’s not earthy but he does know how to connect with people.”

The soon-to-be-crowned king has up to now had a low-key private life with his commoner wife, a divorcee former journalist, and two daughters. Royal observers think his lifestyle is informed by both his natural character and his awareness of the times.

“The current economic crisis... requires serious reflection as to how the collective spirit can... recover values that have, in recent times, gone astray,” Felipe said in a 2012 speech, referring to “generosity, integrity, effort and excellence.”

The Prince has had a lifetime’s training for a position which has changed dramatically since dictator Francisco Franco designated Juan Carlos as his successor. But huge challenges await, most importantly making the monarchy seem important in a time of economic hardship. Younger Spaniards are increasingly republican, and a poll at the start of 2013 showed 57.8 percent of young people rejected the monarchy.

The tall prince was once regarded as a playboy in his twenties: two of his girlfriends were rejected by his parents as inappropriate partners — one was a former underwear model. Felipe’s greatest rebellion was to refuse to back down when his parents objected to him marrying Letizia Ortiz, a divorcee TV presenter whose grandfather worked as a taxi-driver.

In an era when job security, perhaps even for the prince, is a thing of the past, the success of the monarchy will lie in Felipe’s ability to convince younger Spaniards that the royal stipend can be justified.

Herald with Reuters

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