European Media Put Spotlight on New Dutch King

King Willem-Alexander
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As King Willem takes over from Queen Beatrix, who decided to abdicate early, coverage extends beyond the Netherlands.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on Tuesday formally abdicated, leaving the throne to her son Willem-Alexander amid intense media coverage in the Benelux country.

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The coverage may not have been as prominent as reports about the 2011 royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London, but news reports in other European countries also put the spotlight on the Dutch monarchy.

The 75-year-old Beatrix signed her departure declaration in Amsterdam after 33 years on the throne. Willem-Alexander, 45, has become the country's first king since 1890.

TV coverage in the Netherlands, on German TV networks and on the BBC showed large crowds of people clad in orange, the national color, in Amsterdam to pay tribute to the popular queen, who maintained a recent Dutch tradition of abdicating before sickness or death, and the new monarch.

Queen Beatrix announced her intention to resign in January, saying her son was ready to reign and that it was time for the throne to be in the hands of "a new generation."

Live TV feeds showed her formally relinquishing the throne at a short ceremony in the Royal Palace on Tuesday, signing a statement that read: "I now withdraw from my office of Queen of the Netherlands, and the monarchy will now be transferred to my eldest son, Willem-Alexander."

There were huge cheers from the crowds outside, watching on giant screens in Dam Square as Beatrix, her son and his wife, Maxima -- a 41-year-old Argentine-born investment banker -- went through the formal process.

Shortly afterward, the three royals emerged on a balcony. The visibly emotional former monarch, who will now be known as Princess Beatrix, told the crowds: "I am happy and grateful to introduce to you your new king, Willem-Alexander."

The new king thanked his mother for "33 moving and interesting years," saying that he, the Dutch public and people in Dutch overseas territories were "intensely grateful" to her.

The three then held hands on the balcony as the national anthem played before the new king and queen's three young daughters were brought out to wave at the crowd.

Their eldest daughter, nine-year-old Catharina-Amalia, has become Princess of Orange and is now first in line to the throne.

Willem-Alexander was later officially sworn in and named named Wilhelm IV before a joint session of the Dutch parliament.

In the evening, the royal family will take part in a water pageant.

The ceremonies will be attended by other invited royals and high-ranking dignitaries, including Britain's Prince Charles, Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain, and Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik and his wife Princess Mary.

About a million visitors were believed to be in Amsterdam on Tuesday, with street parties taking place across the nation.

On Monday, Beatrix, affectionately known as Queen Bea, had said that hereditary authority itself did not give substance to a contemporary monarchy, but respect was earned through "the will to serve the country."

Monday night's coverage of Beatrix's upcoming abdication dominated TV viewing in the Netherlands as 2.88 million viewers tuned in to public broadcaster Nederland 1, giving it a 26 percent share of the audience. A tribute show, I Love Beatrix, drew 2.3 million viewers on commercial network RTL 4.

Willem-Alexander has already said he wants to "be a king that can bring society together, representative and encouraging in the 21st century."

He added: "People can address me as they wish because then they can feel comfortable."

He is the seventh monarch from the House of Orange-Nassau, which has ruled the Netherlands since the early 19th century.

Under Dutch law, the monarch has few powers; the role is considered ceremonial. He or she is expected to be politically impartial, cosign acts of parliament, help with the formation of new governments and host state visits

King Willem-Alexander is not only the monarch of the Netherlands but also the Dutch Caribbean territories of Curacao, Aruba and Saint Maarten.

Beatrix has remained active in recent years, but her reign has also seen traumatic events. In 2009 a would-be attacker killed eight people when he drove his car into crowds watching the queen and other members of the royal family in a national holiday parade.

In February 2012, her second son, Prince Friso, was caught in an avalanche in Austria. He remains in a coma.

In an interview on Dutch television, the new king said he wanted to continue the tradition of continuity and stability his mother stood for while in office.

"I'll be Wilhelm IV only to historians," he told a TV interviewer. "On the street I don't want to be addressed as Wilhelm IV, but with my name Willem or Willem-Alexander."

The royal ceremony had its touch of controversy. The father of Willem-Alexander's wife is Jorge Zorreguieta, a former minister in the brutal Argentine military regime of the 1970s. He was not allowed to attend the couple's wedding and was not there for the coronation ceremony.

The Dutch monarchy is extremely popular, enjoying, according the support of around 75 percent of the population, according to polls.

Dutch TV on Tuesday carried footage from special coronation parties being held across the Netherlands. TV reports in Germany, where audiences always seem to enjoy royals coverage, also focused time on the handover in the neighboring country.

"The real power of the Dutch monarch and a political heavyweight like Beatrix was in her conversations with political figures, through which she set agendas for discussion," Rolf-Ulrich Kunze, a historian and expert on the European aristocracy, told German news network Deutsche Welle. "That's what Beatrix understood how to do -- to use her speeches to touch upon the important issues of society in a way that I sometimes wish the German president would do too."

In honor of their new monarch, the Dutch have composed a new "king's song," which was performed across the country and broadcast live on all Dutch radio stations Monday evening.

Pundits on British TV at times suggested that Prince Charles must sometimes wish he could go Dutch, as 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II shows no signs of passing on the top job to her 64-year-old heir.

Sarah Bradford, author of Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Times, told the Telegraph. “That’s not what she does, or what the British monarchy does. There’s no tradition of abdication here -- it goes against the informal rules of our constitutional setup. But it is what the Netherlands' royal family does.”

In Spain, television newscasts led with the passing of the throne from Beatrix to her son. The signing of the abdication ran live on several Spanish channels. All of the morning talk shows focused on the Spanish Prince Philip and his wife and their presence and wardrobe in Amsterdam.

The ever-popular Spanish King Juan Carlos I made his first public appearance earlier this week after a month and half of recovery from back surgery. A dismal economic climate, an aging monarch and growing citizen disenchantment with Spanish institutions has pushed Spain's own monarchical transition into the spotlight.

But while the question hovers in the air, Spanish TV coverage was focused on the Dutch King -- not what to do at home.

Pamela Rolfe in Madrid and Georg Szalai in London contributed to this report.