PM rejects calls to give royals more freedom
15 December 2004
AMSTERDAM — Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has rejected calls to ease the restrictions on members of the Dutch royal family making public statements. He has dismissed claims the royals do not have sufficient leeway to express their private opinions in public.
The issue arose as MPs spent Tuesday afternoon debating the in-depth interviews Prince Bernhard gave to newspaper De Volkskrant before he passed away earlier this month. De Volkskrant produced a special newspaper supplement and a book filled with startling revelations about Bernhard’s life, including his confirmation that he had two extramarital children.
In response, the Democrat D66, Socialist Party and green-left GroenLinks demanded that members of the royal family be given greater personal freedom to express their opinion. “Especially if it is a response to accusations that are rude or wrong,” green-left GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema said.
Balkenende responded by claiming the royal family already has enough room within the existing rules governing ministerial responsibility to issue statements outlining their private opinions. He asserted further that this responsibility was not a “straight jacket”.
The prime minister admitted that Bernhard’s interviews were “a surprise for all of us” as this was not the normal procedure. Generally, statements from senior members of the royal family have to be cleared with the prime minister before being made public.
But Balkenende said he would not comment further because he did not have the authority to discuss the contents of the interviews.
The restrictions placed on a Dutch royal are dependent on how close they are to the throne. Bernhard — the late husband of Queen Juliana, who died in March this year — was in earlier years closer to the throne than was the case when the interviews took place, Balkenende said.
Two of the coalition government parties — the Christian Democrats (CDA) and Liberals (VVD) — believe the existing regulations are in the interests of the royal family and should therefore be strictly adhered to. CDA leader Maxime Verhagen said Bernhard’s statements were “a private matter”.
In the series of interviews conducted since 2001, Bernhard admitted that he had two out-of-wedlock children. The existence of 37-year-old Frenchwoman Alexia Grinda-Lejeune has been widely known for years. But he also identified a second, previously unknown daughter, Alicia. She is aged about 50 and lives in the US.
The German-born prince — the father of present Dutch monarch Queen Beatrix — said the birth of Alicia was an “accident” directly related to his marriage crisis in the mid-1950s. He said his marriage to Juliana was a “challenge”, despite the fact she welcomed his extramarital children into her life.
The crisis centred around faith healer Greet Hofmans, who exercised great influence over the Queen until then prime minister Willem Dress ordered Juliana to cut all ties with the woman.
Bernhard initially contacted Hofmans to “accommodate” his wife after their daughter Princess Christina was born with eyesight problems. He later told De Volkskrant that he would never have contacted Hofmans if he had known she would cause so many problems.
The Hofmans scandal eventually placed Juliana in danger of losing her throne, national archive documents released on Tuesday indicated. The Cabinet had been divided at the time over the question of whether to force Juliana’s abdication. Eventually, Drees stepped in and ended the relationship between Juliana and Hofmans.
Meanwhile, Prince Bernhard also admitted US aircraft manufacturer Lockheed paid US$1 million into his Swiss bank account in the mid-1970s to get him to persuade the Dutch government to buy the firm’s fighter jet. The prince was later accused of accepting bribes, but he told the newspaper that the money was intended for other people.
Of that money, NLG 750,000 was given to his friend and former Lockheed representative Fred Meuser, who had promised to pass the money on to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). But Bernhard said Meuser “took him for a ride” because the conservation fund never saw any of the money.
“I said; they’ve got me, who will believe me now? Who will believe that I intended that million for the WWF, who will believe that? My foot! They’ve got me now!”
In other statements, the prince estimated the fortune he shared with his wife to be around EUR 150 to 200 million. He dismissed claims the Dutch royals were one of the world’s richest families. He also repeated his denial, with “his hand on the Bible”, that he had ever been a member of the Nazi party.
The popular prince was interred in the royal family crypt in Delft on Saturday with full military honours in recognition of his service during World War II. The prince died on 1 December of cancer at the UMC hospital in Utrecht. He was 93 years old.
[Copyright Expatica News + Novum Nieuws 2004]
Subject: Dutch news