Royal Rumble: EU Monarchs behaving badly

Article published on April 13, 2014
Article published on April 13, 2014

In the EU, seven constitutional monarchies have survived waves of republicanism to remain at the head of their country’s establishment today. However, as many politicians have proven over recent years, those in charge don’t always follow the rules they set. A regal title doesn’t necessarily mean regal behaviour. Let’s take a look at a few monarchs behaving badly.

De­spite cer­tain pos­i­tive ex­am­ples such as King Juan Car­los’ in­stru­men­tal role in the cre­ation of democ­racy in Spain, monar­chi­cal med­dling in pol­i­tics is frowned upon nowa­days. How­ever, in the UK Prince Charles has fre­quently been ac­cused of in­ter­fer­ing, and an on­go­ing cam­paign by the Guardian to pub­lish his let­ters to MPs won a re­cent vic­tory after the orig­i­nal ban was de­clared un­law­ful. Al­most un­be­liev­ably, their pub­li­ca­tion had been pre­vi­ously re­fused on the basis that they could cast doubt upon his po­lit­i­cal neu­tral­ity, and as such harm his abil­ity to per­form fu­ture du­ties as king.

How­ever, over the years it has been the roy­als per­sonal rather than po­lit­i­cal ex­ploits that have gar­nered neg­a­tive press. Prince William and Charles re­cently did the very am­i­ca­ble deed of tak­ing a stand against il­le­gal poach­ers, and mak­ing a heart­felt ap­peal for the pro­tec­tion of an­i­mals around the world. Per­haps it might have felt more sin­cere had Prince William not been romp­ing around Spain shoot­ing wild boar only 24 hours ear­lier. What’s more in­ter­est­ing is the fact that the ap­peal ac­tu­ally ap­plies di­rectly to the King of Spain, whose re­peated ele­phant hunt­ing jaunts to Botswana lost him his role as hon­orary pres­i­dent of the Span­ish WWF.

Rob­bing for the rich

In an on­go­ing cor­rup­tion trial his daugh­ter, Princess Christina, re­cently be­came the first mem­ber of the royal fam­ily to be ques­tioned in court. Ac­cu­sa­tions are that her hus­band used a not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion of which he was pres­i­dent to rip off the re­gional gov­ern­ments of Va­len­cia and the Balearic Is­lands for per­sonal gain. It’s claimed the cou­ple then used this money to pay for any­thing from util­ity bills to the re­mod­el­ling of their home, on which they spent a total of €9 mil­lion. In No­vem­ber of last year it was seized as part of a civil bond to pay for their court fees.

Al­though this cor­rup­tion is par­tic­u­larly poignant given the back­ground of Spain’s soar­ing debts and al­most 30% un­em­ploy­ment, it’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that their royal fam­ily is the cheap­est of any Eu­ro­pean monar­chies. Sev­eral years of cuts have left them with a bud­get of €7.78 mil­lion for 2014, mak­ing them com­par­a­tively im­pov­er­ished against their UK coun­ter­parts, who can look for­ward to £37.9 mil­lion of the tax­payer’s money over the same pe­riod. Worse still, the Nether­lands’ pop­u­la­tion is two thirds smaller than Spain’s but the Dutch King and Queen re­ceive four times as much tax payer money.

Even more strik­ing is a re­cent par­lia­men­tary re­port that high­lighted just how poor the British Royal Fam­ily are in the man­age­ment of their fi­nances. The re­port con­cluded that the Crown “needs to get a much firmer grip on how it plans to ad­dress its back­log of prop­erty main­te­nance.”  It also said “there is scope for the House­hold to gen­er­ate more in­come and re­duce its costs fur­ther.” Hardly sur­pris­ing given that only a smat­ter­ing of Buck­ing­ham Palace’s 775 rooms are open for pub­lic vis­its, and even then for only two months of the year. What’s more, over­spend­ing last year led to the Palace dip­ping into its cash re­serves, leav­ing them at the his­tor­i­cal low of £1 mil­lion.

EU Agri­cul­tural Funds for Roy­als

In­ter­est­ingly, the money that funds these regal lifestyles isn’t only com­ing from their own cit­i­zens. Here we’ll turn our gaze to the hulk­ing EU wide fund of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy, which takes up 40% of the EU’s en­tire bud­get. Aside from Spain, Britain is the coun­try with the least equally dis­trib­uted land in Eu­rope, with 70% of it being held by only 0.28% of the pop­u­la­tion, and the av­er­age British house­hold con­tributes £245 a year to the CAP.

In 2012, a free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest from the New States­man found large re­cip­i­ents of the scheme to in­clude the Duke of West­min­ster, who in 2012 added £748,716 to his £7.4 bil­lion wealth thanks to it. In the same year the Queen re­ceived £415,817 and the Duchy of Lan­caster £314,811. On top of this, until a 2015 re­form comes into place there is no ne­ces­sity for these landown­ers to ac­tu­ally en­gage in any farm­ing ac­tiv­ity to re­ceive ben­e­fits. It’s a sim­ple mat­ter of the more they own, the more they re­ceive. De­spite an EU Com­mis­sion pro­posal to cap the total sub­sidy any large farmer can re­ceive at €300,000, op­po­si­tion from lobby groups meant it didn’t get into the final re­form bill.

Ev­i­dently, none of the above makes for great press, and his­tor­i­cally it tends to be the case that peo­ple need to per­ceive some kind of ac­tive wrong­do­ing on the part of their mon­archs to achieve a suf­fi­cient de­sire to over­throw them. How­ever, it seems in­dig­na­tion isn’t wide­spread enough to usher in any kind of re­pub­li­can rev­o­lu­tion in the near fu­ture. In fact, the Queen’s re­cent Di­a­mond Ju­bilee and the “royal baby” mania that gripped the world last year has led to some of the most favourable opin­ions ever to­wards the British Royal Fam­ily. Around two thirds be­lieve the UK to be bet­ter off as a monar­chy, and only 17% would see a re­pub­lic as prefer­able. This is cou­pled with high con­fi­dence in the in­sti­tu­tion’s fu­ture longevity, with only 14% of Britons be­liev­ing the monar­chy will be abol­ished by 2070 (in­ter­est­ingly in the same YouGov sur­vey 15% think we’ll have made con­tact with alien life by then).

De­spite any wrong­do­ings and scan­dals, it’s still seems they’re be­hav­ing no worse than our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, with cor­rup­tion, sex­ual abuse and mis­use of pub­lic of­fice hav­ing rocked many Eu­ro­pean par­lia­ments over re­cent years. The fact we don’t get to pub­licly elect which mon­archs’ pock­ets our money is fun­nelled into just makes it all the more dis­tress­ing. Whilst we can’t vote them out in the short term, it cer­tainly ought to make their po­si­tions more pre­car­i­ous in the long run.

The British Royal Family enjoy a day at a snake farm in 1947