With Royal reliance on the public purse, is it sustainable in modern times?

Royal houses across Europe have faced increased ‘stream-lining’, cut-backs and financial scrutiny in recent years. COVID-19 appears to have only exacerbated the woes of these illustrious public institutions. Will they be afforded any sympathy?

The Dutch Royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau, face a review of their annual expenditure as the British Royals look at cost cutting measures following the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MP’s from the Netherland’s opposition party demanded an investigation into the funding of the royal family, who are given €47.5 million a year by the Dutch taxpayer. They are considered to be the third most expensive Royal House in Europe, behind the Windsors and the Monégasque Royals. However, their total cost to the government is unknown as the upkeep of the palace and the outlays generated by state visits are not published.

This follows a controversial announcement that Princess Catharina-Amalia, the daughter and heir apparent of King Willem-Alexander, will receive a salary of €300,000 once she turns 18 next year.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, agreed to the spending review but expressed concern that a debate over the exact salary and cost of the royals risks becoming too ‘populist’. He defended the large salary that the Princess will receive, asserting that she needs to build her own staff and has no alternative means of generating an income.

The Swedish Crown, as shown in Stockholm. Photo: Giraffew

This financial review follows a series of high-profile royal cuts in recent years. Last October, the Swedish King, Carl XVI Gustaf cut out five of his grandchildren from official duties and they will therefore receive no fiscal support from the Swedish government. Membership of the institution has been reduced to those already ‘in office’ or in the direct line of succession; the King, the Queen, the Crown Princess Victoria and her children.

In 2016 the Danish government also announced that they would only fund the direct heirs to the throne.

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These culls may be a routine re-alignment and organisation of the finances of these ancestral houses. Historically for Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands public funding of the royals has not been given to extended family members. So, these recent moves could be perceived as an inevitable trimming down of a public institution.

However, have public appetites for huge expenditures dampened in recent years? Will the financial aftermath of COVID-19 impact the popularity of the aristocratic heads of state?

In September, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, Michael Stevens, announced a series of financial shortfalls which have hit the Windsors during the pandemic. The fall in ticket sales and visits to royal buildings will see a £15 million budget gap over three years. It will also cause problems with funding the 10-year £369 million renovation project of Buckingham Palace, leaving the Queen scrambling to locate an extra £20 million.

Ongoing Costs

It seems unlikely that the British taxpayer will be prepared to foot the bill, especially following the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’s assertion in August that the ‘hard times are here’. When the rest of the country are struggling to keep the lights on, it will surely be an unpopular move to pay for the Queen’s Chandeliers.

Moreover, recent opinion polls concerning the Monarchy in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom perhaps reveal something that is further unsettling King William and Queen Elizabeth. In one YouGov poll conducted in February of this year, only 52% of 25-49 year olds believed that the UK should continue to have a monarchy, compared to 69% in the 50-65 age range and 77% for people aged 65+.

The younger demographic in the Netherlands have a similar perspective, in April last year 55% of 18-34 year olds would prefer to have a king or queen as head of state over a president.

European Royal houses could then be anticipating heavier scepticism in the years to come. Cost-cutting measures and the high-profile reduction of the membership of these families may be an effort to survive an increasingly apathetic population.