The Netherlands is one of the few remaining Monarchies in Europe. For the past two years the country celebrated 200 years of their Monarchy. Nonetheless, the majority of Dutch citizens are against royalty and would prefer to be a republic. They doubt the added value of having a king and queen. What have these 200 years actually brought them?
At this moment the Netherlands is led by King Willem Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima. The King has no political participation except for the fact that he has to sign new bills, approve cabinets and perform his ceremonial tasks.
The Monarchy is not exactly cherished amongst the population. A recent survey from the NOS (a Dutch public broadcaster) showed that a surprisingly low rate of 45% (out of thousand Dutch eligible voters that were questioned) actually knew there was a 200-year celebration. 52% of them even opposed against the use of 2 million Euros of tax money for the funding of the events. 17% thought it was important that the event was celebrated.
Besides the monarchy not being cherished, there have been some quite controversial topics as well. For the past decade the Netherlands has been debating about the costs of the Monarchy. It is said that they have a lavish lifestyle which does not fit into the times of weak economies and major differences between the rich and poor. In total, this lifestyle costs the tax payer a total of 40 million Euros. Most of this is spent on ‘functional spending’. These are explained as costs for the execution of being a King/Queen. This includes staff (260 people), cars, carriages and palaces. For example the renovation of ‘Huis ten Bosch’, the future home of the King alone costed 59 million Euros.
In contrast to this, professor and economist Harry van Dalen says the monarchy yield the Netherlands 4 to 5 billion Euros per year because, according to him, a monarchy draws more foreign investors than a republic because of its stability. Conforming to this, the ministry of economic affairs states that every trade mission involving the King or Queen provides us with 200 million Euros each time.
If there is so much criticism, why is the Netherlands still a monarchy? Generalising this question, why do we still have monarchies in Europe? There are still 7 monarchies and one duchy (Luxembourg) left in the EU.
Looking back at the 17th, 18th, and the 21st century as well, these have proven to often resist. What’s even more strange is the fact that if you look at the percentage of people in favour of ‘their’ monarchy is extremely high (72% in Britan 2009, 85% the Netherlands 2013, Spain 50% 2014). So, what’s so appealing about a king or queen? An often heard argument is the fact that monarchies are an important part of cultural heritage. In most countries they go hand in hand with holidays and fun events and they take a large part in a country’s history. Citizens can identify themselves with royals and look at them as representatives of their culture. The nation gets a face. The ‘we’ feeling, a feeling of nationalism, gets enlarged due to royals. Royals are often a play of which we would like to be part. Castles, princes, princesses and jewellery are a fairy tale which we would like to be true.
I can say that I can relate to the benefits of a monarchy that were mentioned above, I love our King and Queen as well. I like their fairy tale. However, they add nothing significant to the Dutch politics. A president would do the same. Moreover, he would probably cost less (presuming that he does not live in expensive houses etc.). This is the 21st century, royals do not fit into this picture, no matter how much fun they are. In countries like England, the Queen still has some influence in politics and really is a part of the culture. I understand that you cannot just replace her, but in the Netherlands, a small country with an unfamiliar king who only cuts ribbons, in Sweden, where the king only has a ceremonial role or in Spain, a country with a family of infamous royals surrounded by scandals, the monarchy can be replaced with a republic. It would not change much.
It is not easy to understand why there are still hereditary positions in European member states, which cost enormous amounts of tax money and are only there for ‘recreational’ purposes. It is 2015, we are grown up enough to accept the fact that these positions are unfair to other citizens.