Monarchies in today’s world
After weeks of expectation and speculation, Prince George of Cambridge was born in the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in London. The much-expected prince is now third in line to succeed Queen Elizabeth II.
The royal birth shifted the focus on the Monarchy and re-ignited public interest in this ancient institution. The British Monarchy managed to retain a mystique and a dignity that never ceases to fascinate people.
The queen is respected and admired for her unstinting service. Despite their personal opposition to the constitutional monarchy, staunch republicans, such as the late Michael Foot and Tony Benn, frequently expressed the high regard they had for the queen.
The events of the last three years seem to have cemented support for the monarchy. In 2011, the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton was transmitted in over 180 countries.
In 2012, the four-day celebrations marking the queen’s diamond jubilee were a resounding success. The events included a special river pageant headed by the royal barge down the River Thames, a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral and a concert in The Mall.
Support for the monarchy has not always been so strong. In the days following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the media attacked the queen for her perceived indifference. The media supported this view: the monarch did not seem to be in tune with the national mood.
In less than two decades, these feelings have been reversed. A poll conducted in July 2013 by the Sunday Telegraph shows that support for the monarchy stands at 66 per cent. This figure has been described as an “all-time high”.
The monarchic system faces occasional criticism. The cost of maintaining the monarchy is often cited as a key concern. Buckingham Palace reported that the cost of the monarchy was expected to be in the range of £33.3 million (about €38.6 million). This roughly translates into 53p (61c) per person per year, a somewhat insignificant figure.
Some view the monarchy as being an anachronism. Jeremy Paxman, journalist and author of the book On Royalty, writes that the success of monarchies lies – paradoxically – in its ‘illogical’ nature. The monarchy works “by appealing to other instincts of history, emotion, imagination and mythology”.
The constitutional duties of a monarch require that strict neutrality is observed at all times. Their public lives mean that they constantly face media scrutiny.
The monarchy is not merely a repository of tradition. It is an organic institution with a clear constitutional function. Such institutions cannot be complacent and must adapt to changing political scenarios without diminishing their prestige.
Monarchs who failed to adapt have long been deposed. Others have been more successful in reading the signs of the times. Most hereditary monarchies in Europe are now constitutional monarchies. The role is largely ceremonial and bound by strict constitutional procedures.
The small Principality of Liechtenstein is one curious exception; the monarch retains veto power on some executive matters. Such powers are kept in check by a functioning strong direct democracy. Veto powers may be repealed in a referendum.
Some monarchies have undergone drastic changes in 2013. In April, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated in favour of her son, King Willem-Alexander. Three months later, King Albert II of Belgium abdicated in favour of his son, King Philippe of Belgium.
It is highly unlikely that the British monarch will abdicate. Nonetheless, the British monarchy had to revise some of its protocol. The Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 provides for a number of changes, the most important of which is the clause that guarantees equal primogeniture.
The debate on monarchy is never likely to cease. Citizens of republican states, although fascinated by this traditional institution, might oppose such a constitutional arrangement in their own territory. Subjects of a monarch are likely to have strongly held views on the validity or otherwise of the monarchy.
As with most political systems, the key concern is whether the system erodes or damages personal liberty and fundamental rights and freedoms. In this regard, the numerous checks and balances in place are likely to ensure that such abuse does not occur.
Constitutional monarchs are subject to guidelines established by a constitution. The legislative branch of government is in the hands of an elected Parliament; the executive branch is the prerogative of an elected head of government.
The monarchy has evolved into the role of custodian and guarantor of this system. This evolution seems to strengthen, rather than undermine, the democratic credentials of the State.