Royal family in firing line on spending cuts
Members of the Dutch royal family should have their budget cut, say many members of parliament.
Sometimes a financial crisis also affects members of the royal family. Following the oil crisis in 1973, queen Juliana swapped her Cadillac for a much more economical Ford Granada. She did not think it appropriate to continue driving around in a gas guzzler. But she also had another motive, according to the 2001 book Royal Motoring: she hoped for more privacy in a smaller car.
During last week's debate on the government's 2010 spending plans the question was raised as to whether the current financial crisis should also affect the royal family.Geert Wilders, leader of the populist Party for Freedom (PVV), began the discussion: "If everyone has to tighten their belt, does it apply to the royal family?" A 20 percent cut overall, which the government wants, must also be possible for the royals, said Wilders. "They're not the world's poorest."
They certainly are not. Queen Beatrix will receive 5.1 million euros from the state in 2010. Of this, 843,000 euros is salary and 4.3 million euro for expenses such as staff and equipment. Prince Willem-Alexander and princess Máxima each receive 248,000 euros in 'salary' and a joint 1.5 million euros for expenses. But opposition parliamentarians were more concerned about the increase in their personal allowance. Beatrix's income will rise by 30,000 euros and both the prince and princess will receive an extra 7,000 euros.
Make a gesture?
Wilders was applauded by virtually all the opposition, which seldom happens.
And not just the opposition. Mariëtte Hamer of the coalition Labour party
(PvdA) said: "If we're asking something of everyone, I think it's logical to
also ask something of the royal family."
But the government is not planning to take the suggestion seriously at the moment. Prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende reminded parliament that the formula for determining the royal budget was approved by both houses less than a year ago. The income is partly coupled to public sector salary rises and the consumer price index. If public sector salaries stagnate, this is reflected in the income of the queen, prince and princess.
Can the royal family itself make a gesture? Not by selling cars because these are leased these days. The golden carriage, used once a year by the family to drive them through The Hague before the Queen adresses the nation in her speech from the throne, was offered for sale as a joke this week on Marktplaats.nl, the Dutch version of eBay. The 'seller' wrote: "For sale due to financial crisis". Reason: "The whole country has to make sacrifices, including the owners of this golden carriage."
The members of the royal family should stay well away from symbolic politics, says constitution professor Douwe Jan Elzinga. "Queen Beatrix should certainly not say: 'I can manage with less now everyone else has to'." An action like this would merely inflame the discussion. "Because if she can manage on less, why didn't she say so a year earlier?" Left-wing liberal party D66 leader Alexander Pechtold also warns against ' bad' symbolism, but does think that members of the royal family should be "aware of the example they are setting".
Willem-Alexander and Máxima were mainly in the news this past year for the purchase of a ranch in Argentina, the construction of a holiday home in Mozambique and a court case about photos taken during a skiing holiday in Argentina in the middle of the summer. There has also been a fuss about trust funds set up by princess Christina (one of Beatrix's sisters) on the offshore tax haven of Guernsey and managed from Paleis Noordeinde, the queen's work palace in The Hague. The construction is legal but controversial. Balkenende wants the trusts moved elsewhere.
Pechtold does not begrudge the members of the royal family "everything they can afford". But the "shadowy tax constructions" do not fit in with the example the royal family should set. And he calls the construction of a holiday home in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries and on the edge of famine, "very unfortunate".
On Friday RTL News reported that the project developer of the holiday villa in the nature reserve Machangulo in Mozambique may have stolen land from the local population. There are reports of shots being fired earlier this year during an argument between locals and developer. Balkenende writes that "extra steps will be taken which should lead to development of the area and improvements for the population".