The Netherlands celebrates its new monarch | World| Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 30.04.2013
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The Netherlands celebrates its new monarch

The rather reserved queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has handed over her crown to her son Willem-Alexander. He's somewhat closer to the people, and people across the country are celebrating their new king.

When Beatrix became queen in 1980, the ceremony was marred by violent demonstrations of squatters and anarchists. During the celebration in the "New Church," Beatrix, who took over on the throne from her mother Juliana, was able to hear the anti-royalist protests outside.

This time, the installation of the monarch has been somewhat more peaceful and jolly. About one million Dutch and foreign tourists are celebrating in Amsterdam. Everywhere in the country special parties are being held for the occasion, and almost every Dutchman and woman is sporting at last one piece of clothing in the national color, orange.

Republicans have only been able to plan a very small demonstration. Polls suggest that outgoing queen Beatrix (75) and her son, the new king Willem-Alexander (46), are very popular with the people. Almost 75 percent of the population thinks their parliamentary monarchy is the right form of government for the country.

Willem-Alexander and his family (photo: EPA/ROBIN UTRECHT)

Willem-Alexander and his family try to depict themselves as just like everyone else

In a television interview, the new king said he wants to continue in the same vein in which his mother held office. "I want to be a king who builds on the traditions of his predecessors. I'm standing for continuity and stability in the country, but I also will be a king who will bring people together and mediate between them."

Willem-Alexander will continue to cut tape to open things, and he'll focus on his representative role and his charity work as he was already doing as a crown prince. "Of course I am king, but I will remain a human being with feelings. Without feelings you couldn't be yourself. It is important to remain authentic. If you don't stay authentic, you wouldn‘t be able to fulfill this new office," Willem-Alexander said.

Close to the people

The Dutch constitution is very precise in defining the role of the monarch as head of state. The king can contribute to the formation of the government, since he can name the mediator in the coalition talks. Rolf-Ulrich Kunze, historian and expert on European aristocracy, says that the outgoing queen Beatrix had always understood the political dimension of her job.

"The real power of the Dutch monarch and a political heavyweight like Beatrix was in her conversations with political figures, through which she set agendas for discussion," Kunze told DW. "That's what Beatrix understood how to do, to use her speeches to touch upon the important issues of society in a way that I sometimes wish the German president would do too."

Netherlands' Queen Beatrix (photo: AP Photo/Claudio Cruz(

Beatrix is famous for her extravagant hats

But it's too early to say if Willem-Alexander will carry out his office in the same way: "I think we should wait and see how he does. It's a very difficult task. Our society is so complex and he has to consider many different factors and keep so many things in mind in a small country like the Netherlands which link the country with the international community. It therefore will be difficult to create an image for himself which is too folksy."

Beatrix led the royals like a company and stressed pomp, protocol and a bit of a distance to the people. She had people address her as "Her Majesty" while Willem-Alexander doesn't want to abolish that title but does see things a bit more relaxed. "I am no protocol fetishist," he said ahead of taking office. His wife, the new queen Maxima sees her husband as "a person who is very close to the people - he is someone who draws his inspiration from the contact with other people. And it should remain like that."

Less stress on German heritage

The Dutch parliament was hesitant in 2002 when it had to give its legally required consent to Willem-Alexander's marriage to the non-aristocratic Argentinian Maxima. Her father is controversial because of his role in the Argentinian military dictatorship and because of that he was not allowed to attend the coronation ceremony.

The three predecessors of Willem-Alexander on the throne all had German partners. The Dutch monarchy of Orange-Nassau traditionally has close ties to German aristocracy. But those links are hardly of any significance these days, explained historian Monika Wienfort. "Of course there are family relationships but the tendency among the monarchies of Europe over the last 20 years has been to rather make ties within their own country and to understand themselves as Dutch or Swedish. The origin and the family tree of those houses that in fact are all linked to Europe and Germany, are getting less and less important."

'I'm not a number'

The Dutch have already honored their new king with an especially composed "king's song," performed across the entire country and broadcast on all radio stations. Other than that, the royal couple have said they don't want any presents. After all, the Netherlands too suffers from the European economic crisis.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, her son Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima (from left to right) (photo: EPA/ROBIN UTRECHT)

Willem-Alexander's wife Maxima was a controversial choice for the future monarch

According to the US magazine Forbes, the private fortune of the Orange-Nassau family is estimated to be some 200 million euros ($261 million). The outgoing queen received an annual salary of 800,000 euros. A part of the money was used up by her considerable wardrobe and sometimes somewhat extravagant hats.

The new king wants to keep his current name. According to protocol he would normally become Willem IV. "I am no number," the new monarch said in the television interview. "I'll be Willem IV only to historians. On the street I don't want to be addressed as Willem IV but with my name Willem or Willem-Alexander."

Unlike with other European monarchies, there was no pompous coronation ceremony in Amsterdam. It was only a "homage," German aristocracy expert Leontine von Schmettow told German television.

"In the Netherlands, the crown is never worn on the head. That's to do with the fact that the country doesn't have a long monarchic tradition. They have a long republican tradition. In the past it used to be that the local nobility rode through the provinces or went by horse carriage. And then, people paid homage to them. That's why there's no coronation but just a homage ceremony."

The outgoing queen Beatrix has again assumed the title of princess. She won't disappear from public altogether but wants to spend more time taking care of her son Friso (44) who's still in a coma in a London hospital after having suffered a ski accident in 2012.

The succession for the new king is actually already settled. His eldest daughter Catharina-Amalia, now nine years old, will eventually follow him on the throne. She has already asked her father how long he wants to remain in office and when she'll be able to become queen. He didn't reveal his answer during the TV interview. "That will remain a state secret for the time being, he said with a smile.

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