Royal family damaged by public debate
Seldom has the Dutch royal family been so publicly discussed as 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 Máxima 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.
In the Netherlands, the prime minister 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
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, Balkenende dismissed the rumours. He said the project has been held to the highest scrutiny. "Like the prince I have become convinced that the situation in the field does not constitute a problem 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 parliament that, if Willem Alexander decides in the future to become personally involved in the project, he will be informed. Eventually, a majority was satisfied with his explanation.
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 Máxima and Willem Alexander will both receive an extra 7,000 euros at a time when everyone else is asked to tighten their belts, members of parliament complained. The Socialist Party suggested freezing the royal allowances "in the same way they are doing with the royal family in Spain". Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) wants to go as far as cutting the budget by 20 percent. Balkenende resolutely rejected these ideas at Thursday's debate.
Labour and the 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 the opposition to call for a different role for the royal family. The Party for Freedom, the Socialist Party and the left-wing liberal party 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. Balkenende rejected the idea outright, saying "it would be detrimental to the monarchy".