The quirks that could prove royalty's downfall


PETER CLUSKEYin The Hague surveys the wealth, powers, past and potential future of Europe’s remaining royal families, and asks if their countries really need them or if they are likely to survive their sometimes wild personal behaviour

AFTER A week of political manoeuvring in the Netherlands, it now seems inevitable that Queen Beatrix will be stripped of the Dutch monarch’s traditional entitlement to become involved in the negotiation of governments – though she will retain her role as head of state.

Although no vote has yet been taken by parliament, the decision by the opposition Labour Party not to support a motion due to be tabled by Geert Wilders and his right-wing Freedom Party (PVV), removing all her remaining political powers, means that motion now has no chance of success.

Because it would require a change to the Dutch constitution, the PVV motion – which already has the support of parties such as the Socialists, the Greens, the social democrat D66 and a number of smaller groupings – would need a two-thirds majority, which it cannot achieve without Labour support.

And while Labour is in favour of removing the queen’s ability to “interfere” in the formation of governments and also in favour of removing her as head of the Council of State, it believes her removal as head of the state would be a step too far.

As a result, it seems likely now that the final decision will be a compromise which will remove only the monarch’s entitlement to “advise” on the formation of governments – regarded as inappropriate to a non-political monarchy – because that would need only a straightforward majority in parliament.

The moves to curb the queen’s political powers are coming now because it’s believed she may decide to step down in the not-too-distant future in favour of her son, Crown Prince Willem Alexander.

In the Netherlands, as in other countries such as Britain, Spain, Norway, Sweden and Belgium, there is growing public pressure in some quarters for a younger, “more modern” monarchy – for which, in political terms, read one without any remaining political influence.

So who are Europe’s wealthiest and most influential royals, do their countries really need them, what power do they wield – and, as they may be wondering themselves, what does their future hold?


Monarch: Queen Beatrix

Reign: Since April 30, 1980

Powers: Head of State; government defined as the king and the ministers; monarch invited formation of government after elections; no law may come into force unless signed ito efefct by the monarch

Wealth:Tenth richest head of state in the world, with around €250 million, and family investments estimated at €2 billion

Heir apparent:Crown Prince Willem Alexander, Prince of Orange

Although she’s now under siege by Geert Wilders and a good deal of the Dutch political establishment, the fact is that Beatrix salvaged the reputation of the Dutch royals.

She restored their image as an unassuming so-called “bicycling monarchy” when she succeeded her mother, Queen Juliana, who abdicated in April 1980 at the end of a reign which was often marred by the eccentric and, many would say, venal behaviour of her consort, Prince Bernhard.

A decorated second World War pilot, he was infamous for the Lockheed Scandal in 1976, when it was revealed that he had accepted a bribe of $1.1 million from the Lockheed aircraft company to influence the government’s purchase of fighter jets. He’s also believed to have been a Nazi sympathiser, and was discovered recently to have had a third illegitimate child, now 65.

As befits a figurehead, it is not so much Beatrix who is currently in the politicians’ sights as her successors, and particularly her heir, Crown Prince Willem Alexander, who is expected to succeed her quite soon.


Monarch: Queen Elizabeth II

Reign: Since February 6, 1952

Powers: Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth, Supreme Governor of the Church of England; monarch appoints prime minister after elections but almost all royal powers have been delegated to ministers, by both law and convention

Estimated wealth: Personal net worth of €350 million, excluding the Crown Estate, worth €20 billion

Heir apparent:Charles, Prince of Wales

The queen’s highly successful visit to Ireland in May was the first by a reigning British monarch since independence 90 years ago. This, and the “modernising” marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton the previous month, has made 2011 a very good year for the British queen.

By contrast, 1992 was famously her annus horribilis, when both Prince Charles and Prince Andrew separated from their wives, Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York; Princess Ann divorced, and an enormous fire engulfed Windsor Castle. Queen Elizabeth and her consort, Prince Philip, who celebrated his 90th birthday in June, have also been pursued by the conspiracy theories which followed the death of Diana in a Paris car crash in 1997.

The most controversial question which hangs over the British monarchy will only be resolved when Queen Elizabeth is gone: whether in the 21st century the king or queen, especially a divorcee, should remain as titular head of the Church of England.


Monarch: King Juan Carlos

Reign: Since November 22, 1975

Powers: Head of State, Commander-in-chief of the Spanish armed forces; conatitution states monarch’s power comes from the people and almost all powers are exercised according to the advice of the goverment;

Estimated wealth: €1.7 billion

Heir apparent:Felipe, Prince of Asturias

In 1975, two days after the death of Gen Francisco Franco, Juan Carlos Alfonso Victor Maria de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias was crowned King of Spain. It is that fact that he replaced the dictator and oversaw the transition to parliamentary democracy which continues to ensure his place at the heart of Spanish public life.

Apart from his annual speech to the nation on Christmas Eve, the king’s functions have been mainly ceremonial since 1982 when Socialist leader Felipe Gonzalez became prime minister and governed with little reference to the monarch for more than a decade.

In 2007, the tide of his popularity began to turn and protests by Catalan nationalists and left-wing groups led to calls for him to relinquish his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish Armed Forces, and – for the first time – even to abdicate in favour of his only son, Crown Prince Felipe (43).

That year was referred to as Juan Carlos’s own annus horribilis, but 2008 was arguably worse. The publication of a book titled J uan Carlos and Sophia: Portrait of a Marriageby Jaime Peñafiel, revealed a marriage of blazing rows and an alleged string of affairs by the king.


Monarch:Carl XVI Gustaf

Reign:Since September 15, 1973

Powers: Stripped of almost all political powers in 1974 but remains head of state; many former powers exercised now by speaker of Riksdag (parliament)

Estimated wealth: Personal fortune of €15 million

Heir apparent: Crown Princess Victoria

King Carl XVI Gustaf – best known as the presenter of five of the Nobel prizes each year (the sixth, the Peace Prize, is awarded by Norway) – is another European monarch whose extremely private life was blown wide open by a bestselling book which, in his case, revealed a longstanding affair with an entertainer named Camilla Henemark.

The book, Carl XVI Gustaf: The Reluctant Monarch, by Thomas Sjöberg, published in 2010, shocked Sweden by describing the grey-haired bespectacled king as “a philanderer who attended wild sex parties abroad and in underworld Stockholm clubs while the secret police kept guard.”

Since 1974, when an instrument of government removed the monarch’s remaining political powers, Carl Gustaf’s role has been purely ceremonial, though he remains head of state and opens parliament annually. Other than that, he is known to suffer from dyslexia, has a liking for classic cars, and is chairman of the World Scout Federation.

Interestingly, on January 1, 1980, a new law establishing equal primogeniture (the first in Europe) led to Crown Princess Victoria, eldest daughter of the king and his wife, Queen Silvia, being named heir. The revelations of 2010 may speed that process.


Monarch: King Harald V

Reign:Since January 17, 1991

Powers:Head of State, of Norwegian Armed Forces and of the Church of Norway; appoints prime minister and ministers according to who has majority in Storting (parliament); must approve all laws but parliament may override royal veto by thrice voting in favour of a proposal; monarch, princes and princesses have sovereign immunity.

Estimated wealth:Roughly €100 million

Heir apparent:Crown Prince Haakon

After Anders Behring Breivik went on the terrible bombing and shooting spree in July that left 77 people dead, he had two demands: the first was that the Norwegian government should resign, and the second, that King Harald V should abdicate.

Insofar as anyone can tell, Breivik’s view seems to have been that a new order should take over in Norway. And in effect, although King Harald has weekly meeting with the prime minister, chairs the Council of State every Friday, and opens parliament in September, he has scaled back substantially.

The cause has been ill health. In 2003 he was announced to be suffering from bladder cancer and quit a chain-smoking habit. Two years later he had successful heart surgery. And on both occasions his only son, Crown Prince Hakkon (38) – a regular at the World Economic Forum in Davos – took over. With Hakkon increasingly active publicly, Harald’s days of controversy are behind him. His decision in 1968 to marry a commoner, Sonja Haraldsen, caused public uproar, but is now a historical footnote.


Monarch: Albert II

Reign: Since April 6, 2005

Powers:Sovereign Prince and ruler of the Principality of Monaco, Head of the House of Grimaldi; monarch appoints ruling national council which answers to him; monarch may initiate laws; monarch also retains judicial powers.

Estimated wealth:Personally worth more than €1bn, one of the richest royals in the world

Heir presumptive: Caroline, Princess of Hanover, Albert’s older sister

Compared as they inevitably are with the glamour days of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, the rule of their son, Albert II (53), is more the stuff of a bad soap opera than of a fairytale.

Named Sovereign Prince of Monaco on the death of Rainier in 2005, he was first dogged by speculation about his sexuality and his bachelor status until he declared in a French magazine, “At first it was amusing, but it becomes very irritating in the long term to hear people say that I am homosexual.” Then, as if to prove otherwise, he confirmed that he was the father of two children born out of wedlock. Another paternity suit by a German topless model was rejected. However, Albert still has no legitimate son or daughter.

Finally, on July 1 last, Albert married former South African swimmer 33-year-old Charlene Wittstock, in a wedding believed to have cost €55 million – only to see the nuptials described in the media as an “arranged marriage” which Wittstock had attempted to avoid on three separate occasions.


Monarch:Grand Duke Henri

Reign:Since October 7, 2000

Powers:Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Luxembourg Army; sovereign power vested in Supreme Court; laws enacted by Chamber of Deputies; Councikl of State, appointed by monarch, advises government.

Estimated wealth: €1.2 billion

Heir apparent:Prince Guillaume

The first major controversy of Grand Duke Henri’s reign came in December 2008 when he refused as a devout Catholic to sign a new law allowing euthanasia – and as a result was stripped of his powers to veto laws passed by parliament.

In order to avoid a repeat of this embarrassing confrontation between the people and the head of state, the Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, changed the constitution to require the Grand Duke only to promulgate laws with his signature rather than approve them – bringing Luxembourg into line with other European constitutional monarchies.

It was not the first time there had been such a head-to-head between government and monarchy. It happened once before when Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide refused to sign a bill in 1912 reducing the role of Catholic priests in the education system. A nephew of Albert II of Belgium and a member of the International Olympic Committee, at 56 Henri is still a relatively young monarch. However, the removal of his constitutional veto means that his powers are now largely ceremonial, though in theory he retains the right to appoint the prime minister and to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies.


Monarch:Albert II

Reign:Since August 9th, 1993

Powers: Head of State; monarch appoints and sacks ministers and implements laws passed by Federal Parliament; monarch is commander-in-chief of armed forces and makes senior appointments

Estimated wealth:€12.5 million

Heir apparent: Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant

The family ties which bind the various royal families across Europe are evident in King Albert II of Belgium, who is a cousin of King Harald V of Norway and an uncle of Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg.

Married in 1959 to Princess Paola Ruffo di Calabria with whom he has three children, Albert is also believed to have an illegitimate daughter living in London. She was named in 1999 as the sculptor, Delphine Boël, now 43, the daughter of a Belgian aristocrat, Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps.

At the time, one newspaper wrote: “This is an earthquake for the royalty. For the first time in our history, the Belgian media have looked through the keyhole of the royal palace.” As head of state, King Albert, who has constitutional responsibility for guaranteeing the unity of the country, has been active in efforts to build bridges between Belgium’s fractious communities, and the gruelling work has taken its toll on his health. His wellbeing can’t have been helped either by Thierry Debels’s 2010 book, The Lost Wealth of the Coburgs,which claimed that his wealth was 100 times the €12.4 million he declared to the tax office.


Monarch: Queen Margrethe II

Reign:Since January 14, 1972

Powers: Head of the Government and presides over Council of State; source of executive power, and with the Folketing (parliament), of legislative power; most royal perogatives devolved to cabinet but monarch can refuse to sign a bill into law.

Estimated wealth:Relatively modest at €10.2 million

Heir apparent: Crown Prince Frederik

Educated at Girton College, Cambridge, the Sorbonne, and London School of Economics, in 1972 Margrethe became the first female monarch of Denmark since Margrethe I, who ruled from 1375 to 1412. In 1967 she married a French diplomat, Count Henri de Laborde de Monpezat, who became Prince Henrik of Denmark, and will be succeeded by their son, Crown Prince Frederik (43). Her personal fortune is relatively modest at around €10.2 million. An accomplished painter, book illustrator and translator, as well as a chain-smoker, Queen Margrethe (71) apparently courted controversy in a 2005 authorized biography, which focused on her views of Islam.

Part of it read: “We are being challenged by Islam these years. There is something impressive about people for whom religion imbues their existence, from dusk to dawn, from cradle to grave... But there is likewise something frightening about such a totality, which is also a feature of Islam.”