Spain's popular prince must charm Catalonia as king

Wed Jun 18, 2014 7:42am EDT
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By Fiona Ortiz

MADRID (Reuters) - Many Spaniards are hoping for a lot more than polish and glamour from new King Felipe VI when he takes the throne on Thursday after his father's surprise abdication.

The new monarch faces daunting expectations that he can help resolve some thorny political problems - especially a surging independence movement in wealthy Catalonia in northeastern Spain - even though his role as head of state is largely symbolic.

Part of this is because the 46-year-old, who has a degree in diplomacy from Washington D.C.'s Georgetown University and is married to a television journalist, is widely popular.

He also has an untainted image that contrasts with that of his father and other members of his family.

But some constitutional experts and politicians are hoping the new king will use behind-the-scenes influence to push Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and opposition leaders into reforming Spain's 1978 constitution to resolve the Catalan crisis by redesigning relations between autonomous regions and the central government.

"The new king could push in some way a constitutional reform to help to legitimize the monarchy more fully," said Joaquin Tornos, a law professor at the University of Barcelona.

Felipe - whose father King Juan Carlos lost favor after going on a secret elephant hunting trip at the height of Spain's financial crisis in 2012 - could use gestures, conversations and consultations to push dialogue, Tornos said.

As constitutional monarch, he is seen as the only player who could break a stand off between Catalan leader Artur Mas - who vows to hold a vote on independence in November - and Rajoy, who pledges to block the vote.   Continued...

Spain's Crown Prince Felipe waves to the media before a meeting with Chile's President-elect Michelle Bachelet (not pictured) in Santiago, March 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado (C