THE DUTCH monarchy has been stripped of its last remaining political power – the entitlement to become actively involved in the formation of coalition governments – in a landmark decision by parliament which will be noted by royal families all over Europe.
In a low-key vote, the minority coalition government of Liberals and Christian Democrats, supported by the fundamentalist Christian Unity party, was overrun by an unlikely coalition of Labour, the Freedom Party, the Socialists, social democrats D66, the Greens and the animal rights party.
Those in favour of reducing Queen Beatrix (74) and her successors to a purely ceremonial monarchy needed only a straight majority, but they took 91 of the 150 votes in what was described as “a rout” by Christian Unity leader Arie Slob. “The anti-monarchists have co-operated in supporting a bad idea and this is the historic but unfortunate outcome,” he said.
The decision will make a substantial difference to the way Dutch coalitions are formed. Up to now, and as recently as 2010, the monarch appointed a go-between – an informateur – who brought the parties together, set the talks in motion, and reported back to the queen and the caretaker prime minister. Parliament will now appoint one of its members to orchestrate the talks, which will be held without reference to the monarch, until a workable coalition has emerged, a programme for government is agreed and a prime minister-designate chosen. At that point, as in the UK, the monarch will rubber-stamp the outcome.
Despite opposition from the prime minister, Mark Rutte, the decision in principle to “modernise” the monarchy was taken by the opposition parties following a debate last September. A text agreeable to all sides emerged last week – though the process may have been delayed due to the skiing accident in February that left Prince Friso (43) in a coma.
The change was prompted by suggestions the queen might soon abdicate in favour of her eldest son, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander (44).
However, there were also suggestions that during the formation of the current government, Queen Beatrix had “made every effort” to keep Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders out of a position of influence in the deal-making process.
The decision on the monarchy was overshadowed by a row that saw staunch Wilders supporter Hero Brinkman, an MP since 2006, leave to form his own political party on Wednesday, following disagreement over the Freedom Party’s anti-immigrant website.
This might have been a mere sideshow except that it raises the spectre of a general election – leaving the coalition without a workable majority, even with the support of the Freedom Party, as difficult talks aimed at finding €19 billion in budget cuts continue.