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Stubborn Royals

DW staff (jp)January 31, 2008

As Europe's kings and queens approach their twilight years, it will soon be time for the elder generation to pass the mantle to their heirs apparent. The problem is, they don't want to.

HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands
Beatrix likes being Queen -- and her son's too busy to take over anywayImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Dutch Queen Beatrix celebrated her 70th birthday on Thursday, Jan. 31, amid rumors she is preparing to abdicate and hand the throne to her 40-year-old son Prince Willem-Alexander. After four queens, this would make him the first Dutch king in more than a century.

But will she really leave the throne? Like her counterparts across Europe, she seems in no hurry to hand over her crown -- despite the fact that her popularity has seen better days.

"Most Dutch people look forward to stopping work at 65. Queen Beatrix is turning 70 but is still working flat out. How much longer?" asked the Christian daily Reformatorisch Dagblad.

Beatrix has every intention of reigning until her 30th jubilee in 2010, allowing Willem-Alexander to enjoy more time with his children, said Jeroen Snel, the presenter of a royalty program on public television, according to Reuters.

"The prince is very busy at the moment," he said. "But nothing is certain."

Well-liked among Dutch

At least the monarchy has remained more or less well-liked under Beatrix. A recent poll revealed that 79 percent of Dutch people support the royal family, with only a minority wanting to curb the queen's already limited role in negotiations between political parties to form coalition governments

She nonetheless drew widespread criticism after her last Christmas speech, in which she expressed concern about the plight of immigrants and called on her subjects to show greater tolerance -- remarks dismissed by right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders as "multicultural nonsense."

Meanwhile, Willem-Alexander is one royal who has bounced back from a relatively rebellious youth to reinvent himself as a responsible and regal figure. Although his marriage in 2002 to Argentinean investment banker Maxima Zorreguieta was initially seen as controversial -- because her father was a minister during Argentina's 1976-83 brutal military dictatorship -- the couple, by and large, are embraced by the public and manage to keep embarrassing headlines at bay.

Spain falls out of love with royalty

King Juan Carlos, right, seen in the Nov. 10, 2007 file photo in Santiago, Chile, gestures towards Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, unseen, during a heated verbal exchange.
Juan Carlos tells Chavez to shut upImage: AP

The royal family is getting a much rougher ride in Spain, where the days when the public showered them with unconditional love are well and truly over.

Long celebrated for having steered the country to democracy following the death of Franco, King Juan Carlos' 70th birthday on Jan. 5 was overshadowed by calls for his abdication from leftists and conservatives alike. And they're not necessarily any keener on his son Felipe -- they want a general abolishment of monarchy in Spain.

Ongoing public debate on the relevance of the crown has been fuelled by a series of royal scandals. The king shocked his people when he told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to shut up at an Ibero-American summit last November, then separatist movement supporters in Catalonia burned his poster, his daughter Princess Elena got divorced after 12 years of marriage -- marking the first time marital problems were made public in this royal family. Also in 2007, his daughter-in-law Princess Letizia's sister, Erika Ortiz, died in an apparent suicide.

As that wasn't bad enough, the satirical magazine El Jueves caused a stir by depicting on its cover Crown Prince Felipe and Letizia having sex -- reflecting European royalty's ability to generate just as many tabloid headlines as the average Hollywood star.

And none more so than the British royal family, who are veterans of sensational media attention.

King-in-waiting still waiting

Princes William and Harry
Wizzle and Hizzle, as the British taboids call Princes William and HarryImage: AP

From Prince Charles' toe-curling telephone conversations with Camilla to party-animal Prince Harry's vodka-snorting, the Windsors lost their dignity a while ago.

That might explain why Queen Elizabeth II -- a good 10 years older than Beatrix and Juan Carlos -- seems so determined to stay put.

Charles has been king-in-waiting for a record six decades, and has witnessed a major sea-change in public perception of his family. His ex-wife, the late princess Diana, famously wanted to see him forfeit his right to the throne in favor of his eldest son William. This, she maintained, was the only way the stuffy, old-fashioned royal family would ever manage to change.

Although most observers agree this is unlikely ever to happen, the British royals clearly have modernized in recent decades -- perhaps, one might argue, a little too much.

Non-nonsense Scandinavians

Norway's Crown Prince Haakon and his bride Crown Princess Mette-Marit, wave from the balcony of the Royal Palace in Oslo
Mette-Marit and Haakon attract more affection than respectImage: AP

Scandinavia's down-to-earth young royals have also found that it's precisely their lack of stuffiness that has left them less popular than their elders.

Norway's King Harald will be turning 71 on Feb. 21 and despite health problems, seems just as reluctant to give up his reign as Elizabeth, Juan Carlos and Beatrix.

Recent years have seen Norwegians begin debating the abolition of the monarchy in favor of a republic. Although they have traditionally held their royal family in high regard -- not least because it was King Haakon, Norway's first king since independence in 1905, who said no to the German invaders in 1940 -- a series of royal shenanigans has slowly but surely cast doubts on the family's reputation.

Norwegians were shocked, for example, when Crown Prince Haakon married a commoner, Mette-Marit, who had a son from a previous relationships and a murky past in Oslo's club scene.

Haakon's elder sister, Martha Louise, also made the headlines with a relationship with jet set author Ari Behn.

Meanwhile in Denmark, 68-year-old Queen Margrethe II and Prince Consort Henrik were "guillotined" in a satirical anti-monarchy protest earlier in January, with demonstrators plastering the streets of Copenhagen with posters depicting their demise.

"We think the monarchy's time has come in Denmark," activist Pia Bertelsen told the AFP news agency. "It is time to put an end to this archaic and anti-democratic system, as during the French Revolution."