AMSTERDAM — Beatrix formally abdicated as queen of the Netherlands Tuesday and handed the throne to her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, who became the country’s first king since 1890, amid celebrations in Amsterdam.
The 75-year-old monarch signed the instrument of abdication after 33 years on the throne in the Royal Palace on the city’s Dam Square, which was filled with thousands of people wearing orange, the Dutch national color. Willem-Alexander, 46, became king immediately.
The city authorities say they expected at least 800,000 visitors for Tuesday’s events. The celebrations on Queen’s Day, a national holiday, were mirrored across the country with concerts and fairs. Dutch television is broadcasting 14 hours of live programming.
“Since I announced my intention to relinquish the throne, I have been overwhelmed by expressions of warmth and kindness, accompanied by a profound understanding of my wish to hand over my task,” Beatrix said in a national television address Monday night.
“King Willem-Alexander will accept the imperative that is essential to the office: to act without regard to personal preference, and to stand above the interest of party or group. In fulfilling his task, he will ask for the support and trust of the Dutch people,” she said.
For the Dutch, the day provides a chance to set aside concerns about the economy amid a third recession since 2009 and after unemployment almost doubled to 8.1 percent over the past four years.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte has postponed 4.3 billion euros ($5.6 billion) in budget cuts for next year and urged consumers to stop being gloomy and start spending. Even so, the austerity measures may be reinstated if the economy doesn’t grow strongly enough in the coming months.
“Everybody is gearing up for this, and many citizens have reacted very positively the past few months to the new king and queen,” Paul Schnabel, director of the Netherlands Institute for Social Research in The Hague, said in an interview. “People will enjoy this but after today this is all over, and the little extra spending won’t help the economy.”
Beatrix announced her intention to abdicate in January, following the example of her mother, Queen Juliana, who stepped down from the throne early in 1980. Willem-Alexander’s Argentinian-born wife, Princess Maxima, 41, became queen today. The couple have three daughters.
He is the first monarch to bear the name Willem-Alexander and the first male monarch since Willem III died in 1890. Juliana’s mother, Wilhelmina, who succeeded Willem III, also gave up the throne in 1948.
After the abdication ceremony, the royals will cross the street in the afternoon to the Nieuwe Kerk, the 600-year-old gothic church where Dutch monarchs are traditionally sworn in. A total of 2,045 guests are invited to attend, including the entire Rutte Cabinet and all members of parliament. Also attending will be Britain’s Prince Charles and members of the royal families of Spain, Japan and Norway, among others.
In contrast to a British coronation ceremony, the Dutch monarch is never actually crowned, so the state regalia are simply displayed on a table during the ceremony in the Nieuwe Kerk.
The inauguration is costing the government 5 million euros, excluding security measures, Rutte said last month.
The city of Amsterdam is spending another 7 million euros on the event, Mayor Eberhard van der Laan announced two weeks ago. Police will deploy 10,000 officers, with reinforcements brought in from all over the country.
The mayor has declined to comment on specific security measures following the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this month.
There’s been trouble at Dutch royal events in the past. In 1966, Beatrix’s wedding to Claus von Amsberg, a former German diplomat who served in that nation’s army during World War II, drew protests that deteriorated into rioting, with smoke bombs thrown at police.
Prince Claus died in 2002, at age 76. There were more riots at Beatrix’s inauguration in 1980, when anti- establishment groups joined squatters demonstrating amid a housing crisis in Amsterdam and difficult economic conditions.
Willem-Alexander becomes king at a time when the role of the Dutch monarch in politics has been reduced. The sovereign previously played a key part in the formation of governments. Parliament decided early last year, though, that it should oversee the process of agreeing on new coalitions without the involvement of the monarch, and the Liberal and Labor parties formed a government under the new rules after elections in September.
The king has indicated he has no problems with a more ceremonial role.
“I will accept everything if legislation is changed democratically and according to the rules of the constitution. I have no problems with that,” he said in a televised interview he gave with his wife that was broadcast April 17. “If it needs my signature, I will sign.”
Willem-Alexander, who has so far been formally known as the Prince of Orange, studied history at Leiden University and served in the Royal Netherlands Navy. He became chairman of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation in 2006.
He resigned his membership of the International Olympic Committee after his mother announced her abdication and is also giving up his U.N. role.
The king said in his TV interview that he won’t be a “protocol fetishist,” and his wife said that everyone would be free to continue calling her just Maxima.
The family of the new queen, a former investment banker, won’t attend the ceremony to avoid any controversy related to her father, Jorge Zorreguieta, an agriculture minister in the military junta that ruled Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He didn’t attend her wedding in 2002 for the same reason.
“It was clear that if my father couldn’t come for the wedding, then it was also very clear for this constitutional celebration,” she said in the TV interview. “My father doesn’t belong there.”
The outgoing queen, who will now be known as Princess Beatrix, is abdicating after a personal tragedy last year when Friso, her second son, suffered massive brain damage in a skiing accident in Austria.
He may never regain consciousness. His situation remains unchanged, Willem-Alexander said in the April 17 interview.
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