Queen Beatrix will abdicate the Dutch throne

Queen since 1980, 74-year-old Beatrix of the Netherlands will step down to allow her son, Prince Willem-Alexander, to become king.

AMSTERDAM – Dutch Queen Beatrix, who turns 75 on Thursday, announced she was abdicating in favor of her son, Prince Willem-Alexander, who will become king on April 30.

Willem-Alexander, 45, is married to Princess Maxima Zorrigueta and has three young children. Decades of grooming for the throne involved shaking off his image as a beer-drinking fraternity boy whose blunt comments upset the press and politicians.

Beatrix said in a television broadcast to the nation that she was stepping down because she felt her son was ready to take her place on the throne.

A constitutional monarchy, the Netherlands had reduced the involvement of the Royal House in politics, a role long seen more as a formality than a position of power.

In the past, the Queen took part in forming government coalitions by appointing a political mediator, raising questions about behind-the-scenes influence on the democratic process.

That role was scrapped before the last election, which took place in September 2012.

It was widely rumored that Queen Beatrix was no fan of anti-immigrant, euroskeptic politician Geert Wilders. She alluded in speeches to the need for tolerance and multi-culturalism, comments that were seen as criticisms of Wilders' anti-Islamic views.

Wilders' poor showing at the last election and loss of influence in politics could well have contributed to her decision to abdicate.

Queen Beatrix, who remains very popular with the Dutch, became the sixth monarch of the House of Orange in 1980 following the abdication of her mother, Queen Juliana, who reigned for 31 years.

Juliana was 73 years old and in deteriorating mental health when she abdicated, but Beatrix has remained active and in good health despite some setbacks.

The queen was emotionally shaken when a man drove his car into a Queen's Day procession in 2009.

THE COMING KING

Willem-Alexander, 45, will assume his new duties after living the life of a somewhat flashy heir-apparent. And he will be the Netherlands first king in more than a century, when Willem-Alexander's great-great grandfather William III held the throne. William III died in 1890, the same year that Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh shot and killed himself. Since then, queens have ruled the Netherlands.

Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand, known as "Alex" to his friends and dubbed "Prince Pils" by the tabloids because of his taste for beer, has carefully built up a reputation as an expert in water management and sits on several international committees.

His marriage to a commoner, whose father was a civilian minister in Argentina's military dictatorship from 1976-1983, at first raised eyebrows.

But Maxima Zorrigueta, an attractive blonde with a down-to-earth smile, won over the hearts of the Dutch, quickly learning their language. Last year she took a dip in one of Amsterdam's canals to show people how clean they have become.

Water is no trivial matter in the Netherlands, where dikes and sea barriers hold back the North Sea and a complex system of pumps and canals keeps the land dry enough for people to live in and for its farmers to produce tulips and cheese worth billions of euros.

WE KNOW ABOUT WATER

"We like to think we know a bit about water management," Willem-Alexander said in a speech in 2009.

Willem-Alexander and Maxima have three daughters. Queen Beatrix had vowed to remain on the throne long enough to let her son be a father to them and not be distracted by a king's duties.

Beatrix, married at 28, raised a family of three boys in relative privacy before succeeding her mother at the age of 43.

Once the darling of Dutch tabloids because of his love of fast cars and good-looking women, the portly prince was famous for his partying days as a college fraternity boy.

After spending six years to get a four-year degree in history, Willem-Alexander threw his efforts into frequent skiing and boating trips, and once drove a car into a ditch.

After slimming down and taking up sports, even running the New York marathon in 1992, Willem-Alexander has served as a member of the International Olympic Committee.

His relationship with the press, however, has been a difficult one since his wilder days.

As a boy, he once shouted "All press, piss off" at a royal photo session, and was known to use his catapult against photographers who followed the family to the Austrian ski resort Lech, where they spend winter holidays.

Willem-Alexander's younger brother, Prince Friso, had a skiing accident there last year while going off-piste and is still in a coma.

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