Willem-Alexander Becomes Dutch King as Mother Abdicates

Willem-Alexander was installed as the Netherlands’ first king since 1890 after the abdication of his mother, Queen Beatrix, amid celebrations in Amsterdam.

The 75-year-old monarch signed the instrument of abdication this morning after 33 years on the throne in the Royal Palace on the city’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.

The royals later crossed the street to the Nieuwe Kerk, a 600-year-old gothic church, where Willem-Alexander was sworn in as king. The city authorities were expecting at least 800,000 visitors for today’s events. The celebrations on Queen’s Day, a national holiday, were being mirrored across the country with concerts and fairs. Dutch NOS TV was broadcasting 14 hours of live programming.

Beatrix “gave her trust for 33 years and she did not betray that trust. That is the basis of her authority,” Willem-Alexander said of his mother in his speech before being sworn in. “I know that I express the feelings of many people in the Netherlands and the Caribbean parts of our kingdom. Thank you for the many beautiful years during which you were our queen.”

His comments drew lengthy applause in the church, including from the new king’s three daughters, who were sitting alongside Beatrix.

Economic Woes

For the Dutch, today provided 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.

“I take the throne at a time when many people in the kingdom feel vulnerable and insecure,” Willem-Alexander said in his speech in the Nieuwe Kerk before swearing his oath of office. “Vulnerable in their jobs or their health. Insecure about their income or their living environment. That children will have a better future than their parents seems less obvious than in the past.”

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.

Social Cohesion

“The inauguration in Amsterdam today is of national importance,” Petra Hulst, 35, a designer at Royal Philips Electronics NV who was among those on the city’s streets today, said in an interview. “It’s good for Amsterdam and good for social cohesion in the Netherlands.”

“As king, I want to encourage people to make active use of their abilities,” Willem-Alexander said. “However great our diversity, however different our convictions and dreams may be, wherever our cradle stood, in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, everyone may voice his opinion and help to build on the basis of equality.”

After this morning’s abdication ceremony, the old and new monarchs and Maxima joined in singing the national anthem on the palace balcony. Beatrix then withdrew to be replaced by the 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.

National Unity

“What’s so special about a monarchy is that you feel the country’s unity more when there are great festive moments, but certainly also during moments of sadness,” Rutte said in an interview with NOS, recalling incidents including the 1992 plane crash in the Amsterdam neighborhood of Bijlmermeer and the 2009 attack on the royal family in the city of Apeldoorn.

“The moment that Queen Beatrix put her signature” to the act of abdication was most special, because it was then that the throne constitutionally passed to her son, Rutte said.

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.

‘Bit Outdated’

“People in the Netherlands will undoubtedly embrace the new king, not least because of Queen Maxima and their three children,” Frans Damman, 44, a cultural entrepreneur who lives in Amsterdam, said in an interview. “The royal family is a fact we grew up with, though a kingdom is a bit outdated, which is something we should think about on the day of the inauguration.”

A total of 2,045 guests were invited to attend the inauguration ceremony, including the entire Rutte Cabinet and all members of parliament. Also attending were Prince Charles, the heir to the U.K. throne and other crown princes from royal families including those of Spain, Japan and Norway.

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 deployed 10,000 officers, with reinforcements brought in from all over the country.

Changed Role

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 UN 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.


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