Republicanism, scandals and austerity: Europe's royals start to feel the pinch

Republicanism is growing as scandals erupt and subjects are forced to tighten their belts

Brussels

He may be a member of one of Europe's more popular royal families, but Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has not had the easiest few weeks. First there was a movement to cut his salary to the level of a bank manager's. Then his future subjects rebelled against the jarring song released to celebrate his accession to the throne.

But as he takes over from his mother, Queen Beatrix, on Tuesday in all the pomp and pageantry of a coronation, he can find comfort in the fact that matters are far worse elsewhere in Europe.

King Juan Carlos of Spain's daughter may have to appear before a magistrate next month to answer questions about her husband's tax dealings. The Swedish king's alleged penchant for nude dancers has sent his support plummeting to less than 50 per cent. Belgium's dowager queen has had her allowance slashed after plans to squirrel her inheritance away tax-free provoked uproar.

As unemployment soars across the continent and the recession forces households to tighten their belts, royal displays of opulence are simply no longer acceptable. Many Europeans back the abdication of ageing monarchs – whether they be alleged philanderers, spendthrifts, or simply out-of-touch – and are demanding increased scrutiny of exactly where the royal millions go.

"I think the new generation of members of the royal families will try to symbolise that they are more informal, that they don't need the same level of wealth as the older generation," says Lars Hovbakke Sorensen, a lecturer in modern history at the University of Copenhagen.

King Juan Carlos appears to have turned a deaf ear to the suffering of his compatriots. Unemployment in Spain is now 27.2 per cent. More than half of the nation's young people are out of work. So when photographs appeared last year of the king – then an honorary president of the Spanish branch of WWF – wielding a gun and posing in front of a dead elephant during a Botswana safari, there was widespread disgust.

Potentially more damaging to the Spanish monarchy, the king's youngest daughter, Princess Cristina, has been called to appear before a magistrate in Palma over allegations that her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, channelled money for a charity into private accounts. He has denied any wrongdoing, and the hearing has been postponed as judges debate whether there is enough evidence for the princess to remain a suspect.

As Carolyn Harris, author of the Royal Historian blog, points out, most of Europe's 12 remaining monarchies are in northern Europe, not the countries hardest hit by the eurozone crisis.

But austerity is not limited to the Mediterranean. The Red Cross is distributing food aid across Europe at levels not seen since the end of the Second World War. In Belgium, record numbers are relying on food packages. So Belgians were not particularly impressed with news earlier this year that Queen Fabiola planned to set up a private fund which would shield some of her fortune from inheritance tax by channelling it to relatives in Spain.

The purple-rinsed widow of King Baudouin was not accused of breaking any laws, but the government moved quickly to quell the controversy, vowing to slash her yearly stipend by nearly half a million euros and to look into perks enjoyed by other members of the royal family.

Mr Sorensen says swift action was vital: Belgium is deeply divided between the Flemish-speaking north and French-speaking south, and the monarchy is seen as one of the country's few unifying institutions: "When you have problems with the royal house in Belgium, then it's also a threat to the Belgian state."

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands is widely seen to have tapped in to the public mood when she announced her abdication in February. Throughout her 33-year reign she has proven to have a deft touch with the population, and is credited with uniting the Netherlands despite social upheaval. When her middle son, Prince Johan Friso, was left in a coma in an avalanche in Austria last year, there was an outpouring of public sympathy. A poll in 2011 showed support for the monarchy at 75 per cent.

But attitudes are shifting. There was surprise in the Netherlands when a survey last year showed that the Dutch royal family cost taxpayers more than any other monarchy in Europe. "We are suffering in the crisis and a lot of people are not sure about their jobs and they have cuts in their wages, and the royal family didn't give the idea that they care," says Anjo Clement, president of the Netherlands Republican Society.

Last week's controversy – 40,000 people signed a petition to withdraw the pop-rap hybrid penned for Prince Willem-Alexander's inauguration – showed that the royals are no longer treated with unquestioning reverence. A poll earlier this month also showed that 70 per cent of people think Prince Willem-Alexander, 45, should earn less than his mother, who takes home €850,000 a year. Most people surveyed by RTL News thought that between €250,000 and €500,000 would be a more appropriate salary for her son, a water management expert once known as "Prince Pils" for his partying ways.

Mr Clement claims his republican society has seen its membership triple since the abdication of Queen Beatrix. While there is not enough Europe-wide polling since the beginning of the financial crisis to show if it has had an effect on levels of republican sentiment, analysts say there is certainly a desire for increased scrutiny. "It's interesting that the royal family of the Netherlands now issues annual reports," says Ms Harris, who teaches at the University of Toronto. "So even though the expenditure isn't being reduced there is more accountability."

Overall, Europe's royal families enjoy broad backing. Even in Spain, where support for a republic has risen from 11 per cent in the 1990s to 37 per cent today, people do not forget that it was King Juan Carlos who helped to foster the transition to democracy after the Franco dictatorship. In many of the tiny states where monarchies still reign – Andorra, Monaco, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein – the economies are faring better and the gossip of the royal families provides light relief.

A poll in the UK last year showed support for the monarchy was at an all-time high, boosted by the royal wedding and the Diamond Jubilee. Denmark has the most popular royal family in Europe, enjoying 80 per cent support, while in Norway the oil boom has kept living standards high and most people are supportive or indifferent towards their monarchy.

While Scandinavian royals have generally been praised for adapting to modern times, they are not immune to crisis. A book published in 2010 made allegations that King Carl XVI Gustaf lived a lavish lifestyle that included trips to strip clubs. Although he denied the majority of the claims, his inept handing of the crisis, and an interview in which he admitted visiting the Folies Bergères in Paris "where ladies are scantily clad", did him little good.

If Europe's monarchs want to survive, Mr Sorensen says, royal families need to set an example in tough times: "They can turn it into a positive thing. People in times of economic crisis need to dream and they need to have something that can unite the nation."

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
News
news
News
peopleCampaign 'to help protect young people across the world'
Life and Style
tech

News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
i100
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: English Teachers with QTS nee...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + ?110 - 130: Randstad Education Reading: English Teacher ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker