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[Newsmaker] Amsterdam hails new king

Amsterdam was decked in orange Tuesday as the Netherlands prepared to bid goodbye to Queen Beatrix and welcome its first king in more than a century.

People dressed themselves in the color of the House of Orange for the event timed to coincide with the country’s Queens Day, while shops prepared to cash in on commemorative items.

Support for the monarchy has been well established by the common touch of Queen Beatrix, whose abdication follows the example of her two predecessors.
(right) Willem-Alexander
(right) Willem-Alexander

But marriage may have been the making of Willem-Alexander’s popularity. His choice of bride was initially a source of controversy, as her father had been an official of the junta that ruled Argentina in the 1970s.

But the new Queen Maxima’s humble approach has led her to win over ordinary Dutch citizens, and she is credited with encouraging similar qualities in her husband.

His popularity has surged recently, due in part to a recent interview. As king he is legally infallible, but he won praise with remarks that suggested otherwise.

“We are people,” he said. “People make mistakes.”

He also said he was no stickler for protocol and would not insist on being called “your majesty”; people could address him how they wished.

But his efforts to modernize may cost him in quite a literal way.

The Dutch monarchy is reportedly Europe’s most expensive, costing taxpayers nearly 40 million euros ($52 million) a year, and the Netherlands is, like most of Europe, in a long period of austerity.

A recent poll found that half of the public viewed the cost of the ceremony as too high and almost as many thought that funding for the monarchy should be cut. The monarch’s 850,000 euro tax-free salary is particularly under pressure.

Last year, Willem-Alexander was forced to sell a new luxury villa in Mozambique after public outcry at a purchase seen as vulgar.

As public spending is squeezed, many Dutch citizens are beginning to question whether cuts can be made to a part of the national budget that keeps privileged people in luxury.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)
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