The king’s controversial choice to go to Greece in the midst of the corona crisis also led to criticism of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. And that while it was a holiday trip, not a business trip. Why is Mark Rutte under fire for the actions of someone else?
Let’s go back to the beginning. Why is the King’s vacation controversial at all? Traveling to Greece is allowed, right?
Traveling to Greece is indeed allowed: in the part where the House of Orange wanted to go, code yellow (‘be vigilant’) applies and so you can in principle go on holiday. Some Dutch people therefore find the commotion unjustified: according to them, the king should be able to go on vacation. Others, citizens on social media as well as MPs, did not like the trip.
“If anyone has an exemplary function in the Netherlands, it is the king,” notes royal family expert Justine Marcella. “People then get a commotion: ‘hey we all have to take a step back in our freedom, but the king is going on vacation’.” Willem-Alexander, she says, has “read the rules too literally” and has not taken enough account of the sentiment in society.
“You can stomp your foot. If anyone can do that, it’s the Prime Minister ”
Not only Willem-Alexander, but also Rutte was criticized. But why? Isn’t it precisely the king who went on vacation?
“In Dutch constitutional law, everything the king does is the responsibility of the prime minister,” says Marcella. The prime minister must be able to justify the king’s actions to the Lower House.
It soon became known that Rutte was aware of the holiday. The prime minister is now under fire from MPs, who want to know why he has not stopped Willem-Alexander from the trip. Rutte himself said on Sunday that he realized too late that the holiday “could no longer be reconciled with the increasing infections and drastic measures” announced by the cabinet on Tuesday.
Okay, so Rutte is responsible. But why? Why does the king not provide information and explanations himself?
This is because of how the role of the head of state is regulated in our constitution. On the one hand, it states that the king has no power and that the country is governed by ministers.
But the king is also inviolable thanks to that constitution: the ministers are responsible for him. That means that the king cannot be forced to resign because of a political act, but a minister can.
Incidentally, it is not the case that Willem-Alexander did not speak at all. When it became known that he was ending his vacation, he said: “We see people’s reactions to reports in the media. And they are intense, and they affect us.”
“As prime minister, Rutte has a chat with the king every week”
But the prime minister approved the holiday in the first instance?
It looks like that. Although it is difficult to imagine that Willem-Alexander was not advised by Rutte or anyone else to reconsider the trip. The holiday was probably discussed in one of the weekly talks between the prime minister and the king, Marcella says.
“As prime minister, Rutte has a weekly meeting with the king. But what is said there is the secret of the palace and is never discussed”, said Marcella. So the question is how much Rutte will reveal about how and when exactly the conversation went about the holiday.
Could Rutte have forbidden the holiday?
In principle, the prime minister cannot forbid the king, says Marcella. “But you can indicate that it is not a good idea and stamp your foot. If anyone can do that, it is the Prime Minister.”
If the royal family and the prime minister really cannot agree, it can lead to a political crisis. The last time happened in the run-up to the marriage between Willem-Alexander and Máxima. Then it turned out that her father Jorge Zorreguieta had been in the government of the Argentinian dictator Jorge Rafael Videla.
Kok refused to allow Zorreguieta to attend the crown prince’s wedding, sparking backlash from the infatuated couple. Kok often had to talk to Willem-Alexander, who denounced political interference. Ultimately, after long and tense negotiations with a representative of Kok, Zorreguieta herself decided not to go to the Netherlands for the wedding because of the fuss. He would be welcome for private visits.