Beatrix hands over Dutch throne to son amid celebrations
AMSTERDAM • Beatrix formally abdicated as queen of the Netherlands and handed the throne to her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, who became the country's first king since 1890.
The 75-year-old monarch signed the instrument of abdication Tuesday morning after 33 years on the throne in the Royal Palace on Amsterdam's Dam Square, which was filled with as many as 25,000 people wearing orange, the Dutch national color. Willem- Alexander, 46, became king immediately. A few minutes later, Beatrix, Willem-Alexander and his wife, Maxima, appeared on the palace balcony to greet the crowds.
"Dear mother, today you have relinquished the throne; 33 inspired and turbulent years, for which we're intensely, intensely grateful," Willem-Alexander told Beatrix on the balcony. "And on behalf of the queen," he said, addressing those in the square and watching on television, "I'd like to thank you all very much too for the support and the trust we received from you."
The city authorities say they were expecting at least 800,000 visitors for Tuesday's events. The celebrations on Queen's Day, a national holiday, are being mirrored across the country with concerts and fairs. Dutch TV is broadcasting 14 hours of live programming.
For the Dutch, the events provide a chance to set aside concerns about the economy amid a third recession since 2009 and after unemployment almost doubled to 8.1 percent over the past four years. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has postponed 4.3 billion euros ($5.6 billion) in budget cuts for next year and urged consumers to stop being gloomy and start spending. Even so, the austerity measures may be reinstated if the economy doesn't grow strongly enough in the coming months.
"Everybody is gearing up for this, and many citizens have reacted very positively the past few months to the new king and queen," Paul Schnabel, director of the Netherlands Institute for Social Research in The Hague, said in an interview. "People will enjoy this but after today this is all over, and the little extra spending won't help the economy."
Beatrix announced her intention to abdicate in January, following the example of her mother, Queen Juliana, who stepped down from the throne early in 1980.
After the old and new monarchs and Maxima joined in singing the national anthem, Beatrix left the palace balcony to be replaced by the three daughters of Willem-Alexander and his 41- year-old Argentinian-born wife. The eldest, 9-year-old Princess Amalia, is the new heir to the throne.
The new king is the first monarch to bear the name Willem- Alexander and the first male to reign since Willem III died in 1890. Juliana's mother, Wilhelmina, who succeeded Willem III, also gave up the throne in 1948.
In contrast to a British coronation ceremony, the Dutch monarch is never actually crowned, so the state regalia were simply displayed on a table during the ceremony in the Nieuwe Kerk.
The inauguration is costing the government 5 million euros, excluding security measures, Rutte said last month. The city of Amsterdam is spending another 7 million euros on the event, Mayor Eberhard van der Laan announced two weeks ago. Police will deploy 10,000 officers, with reinforcements brought in from all over the country. The mayor has declined to comment on specific security measures following the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this month.
There's been trouble at Dutch royal events in the past. In 1966, Beatrix's wedding to Claus von Amsberg, a former German diplomat who served in that nation's army during World War II, drew protests that deteriorated into rioting, with smoke bombs thrown at police. Prince Claus died in 2002, at age 76. There were more riots at Beatrix's inauguration in 1980, when anti- establishment groups joined squatters demonstrating amid a housing crisis in Amsterdam and difficult economic conditions.
Willem-Alexander becomes king at a time when the political role of the Dutch monarch has been reduced. The sovereign previously played a key part in the formation of governments. Parliament decided early last year, though, that it should oversee the process of agreeing on new coalitions without the involvement of the monarch, and the Liberal and Labor parties formed a government under the new rules after elections in September.
The king has indicated he has no problems with a more ceremonial role. "I will accept everything if legislation is changed democratically and according to the rules of the constitution. I have no problems with that," he said in a televised interview he gave with his wife that was broadcast April 17. "If it needs my signature, I will sign."
He said he plans to continue weekly meetings with the prime minister.
Willem-Alexander, who has so far been formally known as the Prince of Orange, studied history at Leiden University and served in the Royal Netherlands Navy. He became chairman of the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation in 2006. He resigned his membership of the International Olympic Committee after his mother announced her abdication and is also giving up his U.N. role.
The king said in his TV interview that he won't be a "protocol fetishist," and his wife said that everyone would be free to continue calling her just Maxima.
The family of the new queen, a former investment banker, isn't attending the ceremony to avoid any controversy related to her father, Jorge Zorreguieta, an agriculture minister in the military junta that ruled Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He didn't attend her wedding in 2002 for the same reason.
"It was clear that if my father couldn't come for the wedding, then it was also very clear for this constitutional celebration," she said in the TV interview. "My father doesn't belong there."
The outgoing queen, who will now be known as Princess Beatrix, is abdicating after a personal tragedy last year when Friso, her second son, suffered massive brain damage in a skiing accident in Austria. He may never regain consciousness. His situation remains unchanged, Willem-Alexander said in the April 17 interview.