Inside Story

Are the royals still relevant?

As Netherlands' Queen Beatrix plans to step down, we examine the pros and cons of maintaining the modern monarchy.
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2013 13:34

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands is to step down after more than 30 years on the throne. Her son will take over as the country's first king in more than a hundred years.

The queen announced her abdication in a nationally televised speech:

"I ... step down not because the burden of office is too heavy, but because of the conviction that the responsibility for our nation should now lie in the hands of a new generation. It is with the greatest confidence that I will hand over the kingship on 30 April of this year to my son, the Prince of Orange. He and Princess Maxima are fully prepared for their future task.”

Modern monarchs are some of the richest people in the world, enjoying privilege and position, but not always power. 

"We are against the monarchy because we believe that all of us are born equal, not [that] some of us are born more equal than others. And I think that is why most people around the world are opposed to monarchies in fact most countries are republics these days."

- Andrew Child - Republic campaign

The abdication of the Netherlands' queen is now casting a spotlight on the world's royal rulers as well as their wealth. It is reviving the debate about their role and relevance, the cost of keeping them, and the benefits - or otherwise - to the people they rule over.

There are 45 nations in the world with a monarch, and these fall broadly into two categories: absolute monarchies and constitutional monarchies.

In absolute monarchies, the royal family has substantial power over legislation and the rule of law. These are largely found in the Middle East - including Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Brunei and Kuwait.

Constitutional monarchies are those where the royal family has a limited or ceremonial role. 

Constitutional monarchies reign over ten European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg and the Netherlands.

Japan, Thailand, and the 16 Commonwealth countries that have Britain's Queen Elizabeth as their head of state are also constitutional monarchies.

"Scandals and royals have been very good partners for centuries ... Prince Harry naked, we all enjoyed those pictures [but] at the same time [there is] President Clinton and his cigars, Monica Lewinsky, we can add a lot of politicians who also created scandals - we are all humans - that is what we say in the Netherlands."

- Marc van der Linden, Royalty Magazine

One of the arguments against maintaining these monarchies is the financial cost of keeping them. Top of the royal family tree in Europe is Netherlands' outgoing Queen Beatrix, who cost Dutch taxpayers a little over $48m last year.

That amount eclipsed Britain's Queen Elizabeth who, after big cuts to the royal budget, saw her individual bill go down to some $46m.

King Juan Carlos of Spain gets almost $11m from the Spanish government and he too is making cuts because of the economic crisis.

By contrast, the cost of having a president in France amounts to even more; the public bill for Francois Hollande is estimated at almost $137m. And none of these figures include the tens of millions also spent on security.

So, what is the role of the monarchy in modern society, and are today's royals still relevant?

To discuss this, Inside Story with presenter Shiulie Ghosh is joined by guests: Andrew Child, the director of the UK anti-monarchy campaign group, Republic; Marc van der Linden, chief editor of the Dutch publication, Royalty Magazine; and David Haigh, a financial marketing expert, and CEO and founder of Brand Finance.


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