Now the queen has announced her abdication, it is time to prepare the monarchy for the 21st century, writes Sander Terphuis. ‘The monarch should not be part of the government’.
With the queen’s abdication the time has come to reform and modernise the monarchy. This modernisation is necessary in order to prevent the queen and other members of the royal family from falling into the delicate position they have sometimes found themselves in and to make the monarchy future-proof. I think the following proposals would do much to achieve this.
At the moment the monarch still forms part of the government. Our constitution states, moreover, that the person of the monarch is inviolable and that the ministers are responsible. In principle, the monarch can say anything he or she likes. This arrangement dates from 1848. 160 years later, we are ready for a new approach.
The present situation gives rise to a number of problems. Take the queen’s Christmas speech. This may be an expression of the queen’s personal opinion but time and again the question arises as to what extent the prime minister is responsible for what the queen says. This constitutional construction made the queen vulnerable. It was as if she, an autonomous person, could not be allowed to have an opinion of her own. At times it caused embarrassment to the cabinet as well.
When, in 2009, the queen spoke of the importance of mutual respect, tolerance and solidarity, Wilders immediately said the speech was full of ‘multiculti’. In 2011 the queen expressed her concern for nature and the environment and again the critics came out in force. Had Beatrix become a member of GroenLinks, they wanted to know.
In this year’s Christmas speech, the queen stated ‘We ourselves are Europe’. This single sentence was enough to cause a heated discussion on whether the queen was speaking for herself or expressing the opinion of the government. And how can we tell the difference?
One of the queen’s important tasks is to represent the Netherlands abroad. There she is simply the queen of the Netherlands, regardless of her position in the government. It adds nothing to what she is already achieving in this area. When the queen visited a mosque in Oman in 2011, she wore a headscarf as a token of respect. It was a gesture much appreciated by the people of Oman. In the Netherlands it met with some fierce criticism. Questions were asked in parliament about the visit to the mosque and the wearing of the headscarf.
As for the queen’s speech on budget day, it is a mere recitation of what the cabinet has written.
At the moment, a step-by-step reduction of the monarchy’s political powers is taking place. A good example is the lightening speed with which the cabinet formation was started. Taking away the queen’s privilege of appointing an ‘informateur’, or coalition negotiator, was an important first step towards curtailing the power of the monarchy and more steps are likely to follow.
In short, remove the monarch from government. A government is based on the results of an election and the parties have a democratic mandate. The queen has no such mandate. All the more reason not to have a royal presence in government.
The cabinet is trying to cap public sector top salaries and bring them down to the so-called ‘Balkenende norm’ (a maximum of €193,000, DN). There is no reason why the royals should be exempt. This aspect, too, makes the royal family vulnerable, especially when the economic crisis is demanding sacrifices from all of us.
It would be a good idea to form a committee of wise ladies and gentlemen to investigate how best to prepare the monarchy for the 21st century. By this I mean a monarchy which plays an effective part in serving the interests of our country without being laid open to outside influences.
Sander Terphuis is a senior policy advisor at the Dutch Justice Association NVvR and a member of the Labour party.
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