A dignified queen who radiates stability: wonderful. A crown prince who embodies trustworthiness: excellent. A crown princess who combines Latin style with a Calvinistic work ethic: even better! Add three pretty little princesses to the mix and the Netherlands has a very mediagenic royal family. But should the queen really play a role in governing the country? And why is the eldest child automatically the next in line to the throne?
The Dutch still love their royal family: a recent survey indicates that 75 percent of the population supports the monarchy; it's an approval rating that most presidents or prime ministers can only dream of. However, an increasing number of people also say it's time to modernise the Dutch monarchy.
A survey conducted on behalf of Dutch public broadcaster NOS shows that more than 50 percent of those polled are satisfied with the monarchy in its current form. The survey was part of the national monarchy debate broadcast live on television on Monday evening. However, 26 percent said it is no longer appropriate for the queen to play an active role in government and want the House of Orange reduced to a purely ceremonial institution. Just 11 percent of respondents wanted to see the monarchy abolished. Five hundred people took part in the survey.
At the moment Queen Beatrix is part of the government but not responsible for policy. Although the country is run by the prime minister and the cabinet, the queen meets with the prime minister every week, signs bills into law and plays a significant role in the formation of a new government after an election.
For decades, criticism of the political role played by the monarch was an enormous taboo and was only ever expressed in hushed terms. In recent years criticism has been louder and more frequent. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) has been especially critical of the influence the queen has on the formation of a new government.
After a general election the queen appoints an informateur (sometimes more than one), who then holds talks with the leading political parties; they then advise the queen on the appointment of a formateur, who then leads the coalition talks. The PVV’s criticism has been echoed by parties on the left as well as at the centre of the political spectrum; the opposition Labour Party and D66 democrats both agree that the queen’s influence on the political process needs to be curbed.
Time to go
Most of the people taking part in Monday night's TV debate, which included both monarchists and republicans, were generally positive about Queen Beatrix, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Crown Princess Máxima. However, journalist Elspeth Etty said she was disappointed with the queen:
"I would expect someone with her level of intelligence to realise that it's time to abolish the monarchy. She really ought to say enough is enough, we've had a fabulous time, thank you very much and now it's over."
Daniela Hooghiemstra, who has written two books on the Dutch royal house, warned that people have had enough of a royal family surrounded by pomp and privilege: "If you want to keep the monarchy then it has to be modernised".
She also believes that the crown prince could be a threat to the monarchy as he is an individualist and is particularly protective of his personal freedom. She wonders whether he will be willing to devote himself to serving the needs of the state in quite the same way that his mother has done:
"The desire for personal freedom is a very strong character trait in Willem-Alexander. I think balancing the needs of the monarchy against his own personal needs will be one of the most difficult things for him during his monarchy. His mother has certainly completely devoted herself to her office. The question really is whether Willem-Alexander will be willing and able to do the same."
The debate on TV was fairly heated and it's bound to continue beyond the studio. A majority of the population supports the monarchy and it appears unlikely that it will be reduced to a purely ceremonial institution any time soon: the constitution would have to be changed and a majority of MPs do not support the measure.
However, there are other measures that a majority of MPs do seem willing to support: the Labour Party will today propose scrapping a significant number of tax and financial privileges currently enjoyed by the House of Orange. At the moment the royal family costs the taxpayer 114 million euro per annum. The proposed cuts would mean that in future the queen will have to pay for her own residences, her children will have to pay inheritance tax and the royal family will no longer able to fly for free.