Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Invisible Power of the Queen

Our expatriate Dutch correspondent H. Numan has kindly supplied Gates of Vienna with a comprehensive guide to the arcane details of the current political crisis in the Netherlands, designed to help non-Dutch people understand the intricacies of what’s going on in the Hague.

The invisible power of the queen
by H. Numan

I read that some people are surprised about what is going on in the Netherlands. The PVV won massively, but they won’t be invited into a new cabinet. There are many reasons for that. The two most important ones: the establishment doesn’t want it. And most important: the queen doesn’t want it.

Queen BeatrixThe Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy. True enough. However, if the queen had slightly more power, one would have to call it an absolute monarchy. Ironic, as The Republic of the United Netherlands was one of the oldest republics in the world…

When The Netherlands became a kingdom in 1813, king William I accepted a constitution only grudgingly. He wanted to rule as an absolute monarch. In 1848 Thorbecke saved king William II from hanging by having him adopt a new concept: the king doesn’t rule anymore, but reigns. From then on, the government was responsible for governing, not the king himself.

But… that is just appearance. In reality, the queen has an immense influence on politics. Queen Beatrix is one of the richest women in Europe. Her personal assets are estimated between 6 and 14 billion euros. She can therefore influence matters indirectly. She is well known for using state assets privately. Such as the AIVD to investigate someone she doesn’t personally like. Or using a navy yard to maintain her royal yacht. But it goes even further than that. Several letterbox companies on the Channel Island have as an address Noordeinde Palace (Tulip and Daffodil Co., Ltd.)… That’s tax evasion at best, or money laundering at worst.

The wealth of the queen shows up occasionally: Dutch royal scandals never appear in Dutch media, unless they have been published elsewhere first, notably in Bild Zeitung. The Dutch royals enjoy far more privacy from the media than any other rich and famous people on earth. Does the queen, by sheer coincidence of course, own shares in most media companies? Who knows?

There is much more: for example, the government is responsible for everything she does, not the queen herself. Supposing the queen says something that becomes an embarrassment, the government is responsible. The crown prince is particularly familiar with that. He embarrasses himself about once every week. It’s actually quite convenient to have a national government at hand to clean up your mess.

The queen has one massive weapon which she uses occasionally: she can force the government her way by threatening to resign. A kind of royal sledgehammer. Don’t think the queen will hesitate to use it. Queen Juliana did on at least three publicly known occasions:
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  • The Greet Hofman scandal

    Greet Hofman was a kind of religious quack who had a very strong and unhealthy influence over queen Juliana. Far too much for a government to accept. In fact, the queen was borderline mental case. The crisis was solved by placing the queen virtually under house arrest for a time.
  • The Lockheed scandal

    Prince Bernard was found guilty as hell in taking (large) bribes from Lockheed. The queen told the government that in case of a trial, she would resign the throne. Prince Bernhard was not prosecuted.
  • The ‘A’ and ‘B’ princes affair

    The Dutch Royal family is very good at procreating. So good that it creates a problem: should the state support all those princes who will never ever be in line for the throne? Especially since the family is extremely wealthy. Queen Juliana bluntly even didn’t debate this. She flatly refused to sign any legislation, should it come to that. The matter died a quiet death.

These are the biggest affairs, well known in The Netherlands. You can rest assured there are quite a few skeletons in the royal cupboards we don’t know about. Add to that: Queen Beatrix is much more outspoken and hands-on in governing than her mother or grandmother.

And now the biggest political weapon the queen has: she, and she alone, appoints the person(s) who investigate the possible cabinets (‘informateur’), and later the person who will actually form a cabinet, and usually becomes prime minister (‘formateur’). She doesn’t have to justify why she appoints somebody. It is impolite to ask, and supposing one does, “In my opinion, this is the most qualified person to do the job” is quite sufficient. As you can understand, all this is serious ‘behind the screens’ power.

Now let’s look at the election results. The VVD (conservatives) won marginally. They took 31 seats in parliament. The PVV won 24 seats. A landslide victory, true. But not enough to become partner in a cabinet. The Maoist party (They call themselves “Socialist Party” nowadays) likewise won a few years ago and never got into a cabinet either. Nothing wrong here, this is quite normal in Dutch politics. The Netherlands has always had coalition governments. It’s a matter of negotiating.

But this time it’s different. The most likely and desired cabinet would be VVD and PVV with CDA. The Christian Democrats however, were sliced. From the biggest party they ended up as number 4, behind VVD, PvdA, PVV, in that order. Maxime Verhagen, currently the leader of the CDA, bluntly refused to even start debating possibilities, let alone begin negotiating.

So what is possible next? The queen comes into play right now. She very clearly doesn’t like the PVV or Wilders. She has said as much on many occasions. The last time was a few months ago when she revived an old custom: she invited a bunch of parliamentarians for tea with biscuits and a lecture on the palace. One of them spilled the beans. He told the newspapers the queen warned about ‘undesirable parties splitting the nation’. He was forced to resign the next day.

Her Majesty then appointed a new ‘informateur’. One of her close confidants, Tjeenk Willink. Mr. Willink is vice chairman of the ‘Raad van State’, member of the PvdA, and a sure bet to look for a coalition without the PVV.

The current option investigated is a literal monster. A coalition of no less than five parties, being the VVD, PvdA (socialists), Green-Left (ex communists), D66 (left wing liberals) and the CDA. This political monstrosity has the blessing of the queen and of the establishment. It excludes the PVV, the Maoist Party and what’s left over. Basically, all major parties form part of this cabinet — except the PVV.

First of all, the more parties that form the coalition government, the more likely it is it will collapse prematurely. A two party coalition is most stable; three parties usually works well. More than three parties is asking for trouble. When you do that with two socialist parties together with the communist party and the conservatives, that’s not asking for trouble, but begging for it. I’d be really surprised if such a freak cabinet will survive 5 months. Anything more is a plus.

It is also political suicide for the VVD party. Their victory is already called the victory-defeat… The very fact that the VVD is open for this option is causing many members to resign from the party, or announce they will not vote for it anymore. And that is just during the initial discussions. As Mark Rutte isn’t exactly stupid, I assume he is under severe pressure ‘from above’ to commit political suicide.

Since the queen is doing her very best to get this government up and on its crutches, for the first time the royal privilege to appoint the ‘informateur’ is now openly debated. The invisible hand of the queen is seen as a greedy claw to hold on to power, regardless the consequences. It won’t go any further than that. A constitutional change is practically impossible.

Now, don’t be disappointed. Geert Wilders is anything but stupid. Of course he is furious. He should be. If he wasn’t he might as well do something else. But look at it logically. The PVV team is brand new. It is very likely they will make mistakes. Any tiny mistake will be blown out of proportion. If not by the opposition, most certainly by the left wing media - which is all the media there is in the Netherlands.

Apart from that, on what issues can the PVV stand firm? Suppose a VVD-PVV-CDA cabinet were on the table. In order to be allowed in that cabinet, they would have to sacrifice everything. Wilders is clever enough to realize that waiting a few more months will pay off handsomely.

The VVD will be sliced for cooperating in this extreme left wing cabinet. The left wing parties will do nothing but - pardon my expression – bitch-fight amongst themselves. The CDA won’t do anything, just try to heal their wounds. The present queen is old. She should have resigned a long time ago, if the crown prince weren’t so capable of creating gaffes and blunders. She would have, too, but she hangs on just to prevent the PVV from getting into a cabinet.

I expect that a left-wing cabinet won’t last long. Five months? A year? That’s already stretching it. By that time the current coalition will have embarrassed itself into a crisis. The queen probably will have resigned right after this current coalition is sworn in.

After that, it’s payback time for Wilders.


Unknown said...

If only our queen Beatrix were friendly with the Danish queen, and read her book. Margarethe does understand the danger of islamization..
Unfortunately mrs Van Oranje and family are more attracted to the swedish royals - more in her Bilderberg line, like all the western elite..

Professor L said...

First of all, a monarch doesn't resign. They abdicate. Important difference, because monarchy is for life (and thus the threat of abdication actually undermines the entire idea of monarchy).

Second, while I'm quite happy with increased monarchical power, I am also wary of opaque government. Being something of a Jacobite (not to be confused with a Jacobin) and preferring a balanced form of government between monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, I could almost support the Crown asserting its power.

However, the fact that such opaqueness exists is cause for concern (for a government's "morality" (if it can be called that) is determined not on its form, but its transparency), and that it is standing against a significant portion of the electorate could also threaten the position of the Crown.

In short, the Queen is taking a very big risk by being political here and so blatantly favouring a particular coalition. The confidence of the Lower House is the only true necessity for forming government. Royal favour for one's politics is not. That's why I believe in a Lords' Chamber and a Royal Veto - it removes the monarchy from the issue of forming government, and only comissions one once it is formed, while still allowing opposition to certain policies (Royal Veto would need to be carefully drafted so it doesn't end up being an "I don't like this so it ain't happening" excuse. So, for example, advice of a Senate, say, would be required first).

Suffice to say, the issues are quite complicated, and this could spectacularly backfire on Her Majesty and jeopardise the Throne in the Netherlands, much like Louis XVI fatally weakened the French Throne when he dismissed Turgot and Malesherbes in 1776 (though over more financial concerns).

For a monarchist, this will bear watching, though whether it results in an increase in the monarchy's impotency (or worse, its abolition), or ultimately turns to the monarchy's favour remains to be seen.

jwenting said...

The queen will never resign or abdicate, or if she does it will only be temporary (as did king Albert of Belgium several times, allowing the government to push through legislation he wanted but didn't want to have his signature under it), she's far too fond of the power she holds.
And of course her extreme leftist views are a barely kept secret.
The only reason for her not attempting a leftwing coalition would be that such a coalition isn't even theoretically possible.

In fact, I'm rather surprised the current CDA/VVD/PvDA/GL/D66 coalition is on the table at all, as replacing the VVD with SP would also yield a majority (albeit a paper thin 1 seat majority) and would likely be more stable (the parties would have more in common at least in their hatred of personal rights and property).

Of course if such a government were to fall she could always refuse to accept their resignation, effectively declaring that they can continue to govern despite having lost their base in parliament.
I'd somewhat expected that to happen this time around in fact, but maybe she was smart enough to realise that if she'd done that the PVV might have gained enough seats in the scheduled elections (rather than the early ones we had now) to make themselves impossible to ignore and an all-left wing coalition utterly impossible instead of merely an insanity.

Aeneas said...

I am looking forward to seeing a return to the United Provinces, which of course influenced later republics such as the United States of America. The Queen has overstepped the mark and effectively declared herself against democracy. Perhaps a future Dutch Republic would once again have influence in the world and a sense of pride in itself. The current Queen is presiding over a decline so drastic that within a generation the Dutch people may no longer have a country to call their own. Surely it is time to reignite the republican spirit and renew the Netherlands’ prosperity, pride, culture, and greatness.

Vlad Z. said...

I can't imagine being the Subject of Royalty in this day in age. Politicians are quite bad enough, but at least they can be compelled to relinquish the stage from time to time. A king or queen, even a mere figurehead, is sick joke in 2010. An activist queen choosing who shall rule. Well it is quaint, and all, but I'm glad that neither America, where I am from, nor the European countries of my lineage, have remnants like this.