Seldom has the Dutch royal family been so publicly discussed than in recent weeks in the Netherlands. After the parliamentary debate on the family’s financial affairs on Thursday, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende concluded that the royal family had been damaged by the debate. A TNS Nipo poll appears to back him up as 37 percent of people in the Netherlands felt their royalist sympathies had waned.
The construction of a holiday home for Crown Prince Willem Alexander and his wife Princess Màxima in Mozambique, the rising income of the royal family in times of crisis and high expense claims for private flights have all damaged the reputation of the royal family.
The Prime Minister also came into criticism for his late reaction to the mounting criticism. He is politically responsible for the royal family, although his powers to curb its private financial dealings are limited. For instance, the prince is entitled to invest in a property development as a private person without even discussing the issue with the Prime Minister.
The holiday home project in Mozambique has become shrouded in controversy. While it has been promoted as a partial development project which would benefit the local community, persistent rumours of corruption are raising people’s doubts about the whole matter.
However, the Prime Minister dismissed the rumours. He said the risks of the project has been investigated extensively:
"Like the prince I have become convinced that the situation on the spot does not throw up any problems for the construction of a holiday home. But we did want to have more distance between the Prince and the project. So a foundation has been set up."
The Prime Minister told the house that, if Willem Alexander decides in the future to become personally involved in the project, he will be informed. Eventually, a majority in the Lower House was satisfied with the Prime Minister’s explanation.
Tightening their belts
The problems surrounding the royal household are not limited to the Prince’s holiday home project. There is also resentment about its allowances. According to the so-called king’s budget, Queen Beatrix’s income is to increase by 40,000 euros next year, while Màxima and Willem Alexander will both receive an extra 7,000 euros. And that in a time when everyone else is tightening their belts, complains the Lower House. The Socialist Party suggested freezing the royal allowances “in the same way as they are doing with the royal family in Spain”. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party wants to go as far as cutting the budget by 20 percent. Prime Minister Balkenende resolutely rejected these ideas at Thursday’s debate.
The Labour Party and Socialist Party suggested putting an end to expense claims for private flights by the royal family, which last year totalled a staggering 600,000 euros. Here the prime minister was willing to make a concession. In the future, only the queen, her successor and his wife will be allowed to claim expenses for private flights.
The various affairs have led to the opposition calling for a different role for the royal family. The Freedom Party, Socialist Party and Democrats D66 suggested a ceremonial royal family, like the one in Sweden. In this model the queen would no longer be a member of the government and would only fulfil ceremonial duties. Prime Minister Balkenende rejected the idea outright as “It would be detrimental to the monarchy”.
He could be right as even the orange committees, arguably the monarchy’s staunchest supporters, have complained about the royal family’s recent financial antics. But for now it seems the Prime Minister has managed to stem the tide of revolution. The most significant thing is that the role of the royal family it has actually made it onto the political agenda.
*RNW translation (nc)