Netherlands' queen ending her reign

Netherlands Queen Beatrix and Crown Prince Willem- Alexander in April. She turns 75 Thursday.
Netherlands Queen Beatrix and Crown Prince Willem- Alexander in April. She turns 75 Thursday. (ROBIN UTRECHT / AP)
Posted: January 29, 2013

THE HAGUE - The Netherlands' Queen Beatrix announced Monday that she was ending her reign after 33 years and passing the crown to her eldest son, who has long been groomed to be king, but who will have to work hard to match his mother's popularity.

The widely expected abdication comes at a time of debate over the future of the largely ceremonial Dutch monarchy, but also as calm has descended upon the Netherlands after a decade of turmoil that saw Beatrix act as the glue that held together an increasingly divided society.

"Responsibility for our country must now lie in the hands of a new generation," Beatrix, one of Europe's longest-serving monarchs, said in the simple, televised speech.

The queen, who turns 75 in just a few days, said she would step down from the throne April 30. That same day, her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, will be appointed king at an inauguration in Amsterdam. He will be the Netherlands' first king since Willem III died in 1890.

Willem-Alexander, 45, is the father of three young daughters, an International Olympic Committee member, a pilot, and a water-management expert.

Over the years, he has struggled to win the affection of this nation of 16 million, but his immensely popular wife, the Argentine-born Maxima, has helped him gain more acceptance ever since she brushed away a tear during their wedding in 2002.

They are a hard-working couple: Willem-Alexander regularly gives speeches at water conferences, sharing his low-lying nation's centuries of experience battling to stay dry, while soon-to-be Queen Maxima, a former investment banker, has carved out a career as a microfinance expert.

The queen's departure is sure to bring about an outpouring of sentimental and patriotic feelings among the Dutch, most of whom adore Beatrix. Many of her subjects refer to her simply by the nickname "Bea."

Observers believe Beatrix remained on the throne for so long in part because of unrest in Dutch society in its struggle to assimilate immigrants, mainly Muslims from North Africa, and its shift from being one of the most tolerant nations.

Beatrix was also thought to be giving time for her son to enjoy fatherhood before taking the throne.

The abdication comes at a time of trial for Beatrix. A year ago, her middle son, Prince Friso, was left in a coma after being engulfed by an avalanche while skiing in Austria.

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