Amsterdam — Millions of Dutch people dressed in orange flocked to celebrations around the Netherlands Tuesday in honor of a once-in-a-generation milestone for the country’s ruling House of Orange-Nassau: after a 33-year reign, Queen Beatrix abdicated in favor of her eldest son, Willem-Alexander.
At 46, King Willem-Alexander is the youngest monarch in Europe and the first Dutch king in 123 years, since Willem III died in 1890. Like Beatrix before him, Willem-Alexander has assumed the throne at a time of social strains and economic malaise. Although the Dutch monarchy is largely ceremonial, he immediately staked out a course to preserve its relevance in the 21st century.
“I want to establish ties, make connections and exemplify what unites us, the Dutch people,” the freshly minted king said at a nationally televised investiture ceremony in Amsterdam’s 600-year-old New Church, held before the combined houses of Dutch parliament.
“As king, I can strengthen the bond of mutual trust between the people and their government, maintain our democracy and serve the public interest.”
Hopes for the new monarch are high.
For most of the 2000s, the country was locked in an intense national debate over the perceived failure of Muslim immigrants, mostly from North Africa, to integrate. In response, politicians curtailed many of the famed Dutch tolerance policies.
More recently, this trading nation of 17 million has suffered back-to-back recessions. European Union figures released Tuesday showed Dutch unemployment spiking upward toward 6.4 percent. That’s below the EU average, but a 20-year high in the Netherlands.
“I am taking the job at a time when many in the kingdom feel vulnerable and uncertain,” Willem-Alexander said. “Vulnerable in their work or health. Uncertain about their income or home environment.”
Amsterdam resident Inge Bosman, 38, said she doubted Willem-Alexander’s investiture would give the country much of an employment boost.
“Well, at least one person got a new job,” she said.
Tellingly, one of Willem-Alexander’s first diplomatic missions as king will be to visit the country’s largest trading partner, Germany.
While many are skeptical that the new king can make a difference where politicians have failed, the celebrations provided a welcome change from the humdrum of everyday life, and the popularity of the royal house itself is not in doubt. A poll commissioned by national broadcaster NOS and published this week showed that 78 percent support the monarchy.
The royal couple has also been active in the global campaign to fight poverty.
Willem Alexander’s popularity has been steadily rising since his 2002 marriage to an Argentine commoner, Maxima Zorreguieta.