Beatrix now oldest ruling Dutch monarch


QUEEN BEATRIX of the Netherlands turned 74 yesterday, becoming the oldest reigning monarch in Dutch history – and failing to staunch speculation that if she follows in the footsteps of her mother, the late queen Juliana, she could step down as soon as the end of April.

Although there is no requirement on a Dutch monarch to abdicate in favour of the heir apparent, it has been tradition in the house of Orange-Nassau.

Queen Juliana abdicated in favour of Princess Beatrix on April 30th, 1980, after 32 years on the throne. Beatrix was 42 at the time.

Given this tradition, those who believe Queen Beatrix may be about to step down point to the fact that on April 30th, she too will have been monarch for 32 years – while the heir apparent, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, will be 45 on April 27th.

The significance of April 30th is that it is Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day, the queen’s official birthday as distinct from her actual birthday, and the most important national holiday in the Dutch calendar.

Speculation about a possible abdication has been rife since last year, when Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party tabled a motion in parliament aimed at stripping the monarchy of its last remaining political powers – a move regarded as directed more at her heirs than at Queen Beatrix herself.

Opinion polls consistently show that, while Queen Beatrix is popular, six out of 10 people believe she should step down from the throne soon – and certainly by her 75th birthday in 2013.

Royal-watchers also point to the fact that retired Labour Party grandee Herman Tjeenk Willink (70) stepped down on January 25th as vice-president of the council of state, where he was the queen’s closest political adviser.

At the same time, a close confidant of Willem-Alexander was named recently as the new director of the queen’s private cabinet – a move regarded as another indication that change may be on the way in her office at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague.

On the other hand, those who believe Queen Beatrix will remain “in harness”, for the moment at least, say she may wait until Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima’s three young children, Princesses Amalia (eight), Alexia (six) and Ariane (four), are slightly older.

Another argument against abdication, they say, is the possibility of a legal action against Maxima’s father, Jorge Horacio Zorreguieta, by the daughter of an Argentinian man who disappeared during the rule of the Videla junta – in which Mr Zorreguieta was a minister – in the 1970s. If that action were to happen with Maxima as queen, it would be a major scandal.

The Netherland’s previous record-holder as the oldest reigning monarch was king Willem III, who died on the throne in 1890, aged 73 years and 277 days.