Why republicanism would get short shrift in Denmark

Britain's royal family might well envy Queen Margrethe, writes Imre Karacs

The souvenir stalls of Copenhagen are groaning under royal memorabilia. Almost every day a new book appears, promising another revelation, but delivering little more than insights into the sovereign's passion for embroidery.

Still, the commemorative issues and kitsch marking the silver jubilee of Queen Margrethe II are selling well. Not all Danes will be celebrating this week's anniversary with frenzied passion, but most will be quietly rejoicing that, after 25 years on the throne, she is still going strong.

Of referendums to end the monarchy there is not a whisper. Margrethe and the institution she embodies is popular, to the extent that, if Denmark were to become by some act of God a republic overnight, "she would be elected its president," according to a royal-watcher.

Margrethe's relationship with her subjects and the press might well be envied by her second cousin in England. Instead of pursuing her relentlessly, Danish tabloids meekly follow her weekly agenda, and are first to leap to her defence when her honour has been slighted.

This happened last week, when a Swedish paper denounced her because of her smoking. The Swedish ruler, the journalist noted, smoked out of the range of the cameras, whereas Margrethe puffed away publicly even while visiting a care centre for asthmatics, ashtray-bearing servants in tow.

"Let the Queen smoke in peace," thundered a Danish tabloid; "Mind your own business, Sweden", screamed Copenhagen's equivalent of the Sun. The Swedish press had to apologise, hiring an electronic billboard in Copenhagen to flash the message: "Our readers beg the Queen's pardon".

Today Margrethe hosts a thanksgiving service for her closet-smoking relatives in Scandinavia, and tomorrow she will ride through Copenhagen in a carriage procession, and attend a command performance of the Danish Royal Ballet in the evening. That will be the end of the pageantry - a small celebration for a no-frills household that prides itself on its low cost to the tax- payer and even lower profile.

The royal family consists of six people - the Queen Mother, the Queen and her Consort, two princes and one princely wife. They all go about their business without fuss, on foot rather than bicycles, and conduct themselves admirably. The abiding image is of the Queen returning to the Amalienborg Palace from a day's shopping, laden with carrier bags.

Margrethe meets her ministers every week, and while she does not intervene directly in political matters, she can be outspoken on moral issues. In her New Year messages she often scolds Danes for their shortcomings, urging them repeatedly to open their society to foreigners. She is married to one herself, a French aristocrat named Henri de Monpezat, and her daughter- in-law hails from Hong Kong.

Unlike some of her relatives abroad, the Queen combines moral authority with intellectual prowess. She speaks English, French, German and Swedish fluently, has studied archaeology, philosophy and law at Cambridge, the LSE, the Sorbonne and Danish universities. Her CV also credits her with the translation of a book by Simone de Beauvoir, illustrations for the Danish edition of Lord of the Rings, and abstract paintings that have been exhibited and favourably reviewed.

There are, naturally, some flaws in her character but she makes no attempt to hide them. She is headstrong, has a sharp tongue, keeps her family on a tight rein, and admits that, in the 57th year of her life, she is showing no sign of mellowing with age. With no major scandals lurking, the Danish press can only fawn. "I wish I could tell you about some bad things, but there just aren't any," said Bo Draebel, court correspondent of Copenhagen's leading broadsheet, Berlingske Tidende. "Our royal family know how to behave. In a small country, we would know if they didn't."

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