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Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

Whether it is for their glamorous lifestyles, occasional scandals or unexpected successions, such as Queen Beatrix’s, monarchies are still making headlines in Europe. Almost a third of the European population lives in a monarchy of some form, and surveys suggest Europe’s crowned heads of state are well-liked by their subjects.

However, European monarchies continue to be challenged: they are confronted by the economic crisis, European integration and a blooming European-wide republican movement Euronews offers you a interesting look into Europe's kings and queens. Listen to the experts and decide for yourself if a monachy is still relevant in the 21st century.

There are currently 12 monarchies within the borders of western Europe. The vast majority of them are constitutional monarchies, where the king or queen is the head of state. Lichtenstein has a different regimes but its heads of state isstill considered a monarch. The Pope is another monarch, ruling over the elective theocracy that is the Vatican. Finally, Andorra is a micro-state of its own kind ruled by two co-princes, one of whom is the French President.

The cost of monarchies in Europe

The lavish lifestyle of European monarchs sometimes takes its toll on the crisis-stricken tax-payers. In our time of austerity, some monarchs, like Queen Elizabeth II or Spain's Juan Carlos have agreed to cut down on expenses. Others, such as Queen Beatrix, have refused to do so.

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Pennies and dimes for a king

Precise figures of the majority of budgetary items (administration, travel expenses, security etc.) are hard to obtain, as they are hidden within the national budget. As Graham Smith, leader of British pressure group Republic puts it: "the official costs are not accurate. [In the UK], the monarchy here claims to cost the taxpayer £36m (42.7 million euros) or thereabouts. It actually costs over £200m a year (237 million euros)."

However, the cost of the civil list and other grants are made accessible to the public - A civil list is the name given to the annual grant that covers some of the money given by the state to royal families.

Thanks to a 2012 paper by Ghent University professor Dr. Herman Matthijs entitled "The public budget cost of some monarchies and republics in Western Europe," we can see how much each royal family costs its subjects.

Matthijs also compared the costs with republics, such as France. He states that the running cost for the French presidency, including the presidential residence Elysée palace, is the highest in Europe. Despite this, the professor ranks the French system as "very transparent,” in stark contrast to the Danish or Spanish civil list systems which are ranked as "not transparent."Each civil list amounts to several millions euros a year.

To put things in perspective, here are a few examples of everyday items one member of the public could buy with his or her share of the annual grants and civil list:

  • In Belgium, one could barely afford a 33cl bottle of local trappist beer.
  • In the United Kingdom, you could buy an extra can of baked beans.
  • In the Netherlands, you could however buy two cans of regular Dutch beer.
  • In Sweden, depending on whether you are a vegetarian or a meat eater, you could afford either a lettuce or 140g of sliced bacon.
  • In Denmark, again, you have to make a choice. One could purchase either a loaf of Danish rye bread covered with roasted pumpkin seeds or a 350g can of liver pate. But if you choose the latter there would be nothing to spread it on
  • In Norway, with a single share of the royal family's civil list, one can buy four 100g salmon filets. Not exactly a king's feast but Norway still has, by far, the most expensive monarchy per capita in Europe.

Pros & cons

Pedro Schwenzer Pfau

President of Asociación Monárquica Europea

"Every nation needs to understand and foster the existence of distinct images and institutions; the Constitutional Monarchy is of particular importance. It makes the nation unique for its citizens and improves the good image in the world. Its focus of loyalty and allegiance to a respected monarch rather than to a politician, an ideology or a symbol underlies the notably tolerant, mature society.

The King or Queen symbolizes for many the merits of a constitutional monarchy in which the head of state is separate and distanced from the ongoing political struggles of the day. (...) No country can achieve greatness without stable governance. Constitutional monarchy continues to provide that stability.

The Crown’s role is also constitutional; it seems to ensure that ‘the rules of the game’ are always followed, and to provide a non-partisan, non-violent safeguard - “a constitutional fire extinguisher” should normal democratic processes ever be threatened or break down. This is what the Spanish Constitution calls the "moderating power" of the King.

Citizens of a Monarchy are fortunate to have as their Monarch an instantly-recognizable world figure. The King/Queen and members of the Royal Family are much more important representatives of the country than any president of a republic could be.

No one has yet proposed an alternative system of government for Monarchy which would in the same way reflect the nation’s history and be superior to the constitutional monarchy in terms of the day-to-day functioning of the state."

Graham Smith

CEO of UK's Republic

"The monarchy is wrong in principle, we’re supposed to be a democratic society and so our democracy should extend to our head of state. The institution is also not fit for purpose, routinely abusing its position to access public funds and influence government.

And in the UK the monarchy involves real power, power for our politicians and for our royals. Our government can use royal powers to get around parliament and our royals have a personal veto over laws that affect their private interests."

He adds: "The monarchy here claims to cost the taxpayer £36m or thereabouts. It actually costs over £200m a year. Their excuses don’t wash and their claim that the cost is offset by the Crown Estate is simply untrue. There is also no evidence to support the tourism claim either."

On a European level, Republic is a "a founding member of the Alliance of European Republican Movements" which gather members in Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom.

Launched after a meeting in Stockholm in June 2010, the AERM aims at "creating a network of cross-party republican movements in all the countries in Europe that continue to have a monarch as their head of state," AERM's website states.

The Alliance works "towards the replacement of their respective constitutional monarchies with republics based on the principles of democracy, accountability, transparency and merit."

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