Five questions for the President of the Senate, Mr Fred de Graaf, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms Anouchka van Miltenburg, about the abdication of Queen Beatrix and the investiture of King Willem-Alexander on 30 April 2013.
1. Where were you during the inauguration of Queen Beatrix?
De Graaf : "I was glued to the television that day. Together with my wife and with our young daughters aged three years and seven months on our laps, I had the privilege to witness the solemn ceremony in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Amsterdam, and I realised that in our monarchy one era had come to an end and a new era had begun. That the violence on the streets took on such unprecedented proportions was something that shocked us deeply at that time and left us with mixed feelings."
Van Miltenburg : "I was 13 years old and I found it all tremendously interesting. The inauguration ceremony, of course, which I watched on television with my parents, but also the riots that broke out. It was a beautiful day, on the one hand, with this particularly solemn inauguration, but on the other hand, I can still remember that I did not really understand all the rage on the streets. As a child I was rather upset that such a special day had been somewhat spoiled by those events."
2. Why is the King sworn in and inaugurated in a Joint Session of Parliament?
De Graaf : "This is laid down in Article 32 of the Dutch Constitution: “Upon assuming the royal prerogative the King shall be sworn in and inaugurated as soon as possible in the capital city, Amsterdam, at a public and joint session of the two Houses of the States General.” As to the word "joint": the Dutch Parliament, the States General, consists of two Houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is also laid down in the Constitution that the members of the States of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are in attendance, because when swearing the oath the King addresses the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands, including the Caribbean part of it."
Van Miltenburg : "A Joint Session – a meeting of both the Senate and the House of Representatives– is only held on special occasions. The President of the Senate chairs these meetings. According to the Constitution a Joint Session must be held, for instance, when a member of the Royal House has asked Parliament's consent for a marriage, or on the occasion of the inauguration of a new King. The best known Joint Session takes place every year on Prince's Day at the state opening of Parliament, when the Speech from the Throne is delivered by the monarch. The purpose of the Joint Session on April the 30th is for the new King and the Members of Parliament to swear an oath or make a promise of allegiance. This can be seen as an affirmation of trust between King and Parliament, as it were, and thus between the King and the people."
3. What do the preparations of this meeting exactly involve?
De Graaf : "Mainly the organisation of the Joint Session as such and the coordination with parties that are closely involved in the planning. The King is our guest, so we keep in touch with the Royal House. The event will take place in Amsterdam, so we are consulting with the municipality of that city. There is also coordination within the Cabinet as we are expecting quite a few guests from abroad. There is much to be done: drafting the invitations, providing transport and lodging for the guests, the decoration of the Nieuwe Kerk, the musical accompaniment, establishing the media policy, security measures, inviting citizens from all walks of society. Many things are being done in close consultation with the other parties involved. But in my capacity as President of the Joint Session I am ultimately responsible to ensure that it will be a solemn and memorable assembly."
Van Miltenburg : "We do not often witness a succession to the throne, of course. On the contrary, nobody is likely to experience such an event more than once during their term of office. All the more reason to make sure that everybody is thoroughly familiar with the protocol for that day and their role in it. We have to think about logistics and about the invitations (unfortunately, the Nieuwe Kerk cannot seat 16 million people). Of course, everyone must be able to follow the ceremony on TV, radio or via internet, so we have to make sure that the ceremony is properly broadcast. That means there are many things to arrange and prepare for!"
4. In the course of the preparations, have you come across facts you did not know about the abdication and investiture?
De Graaf : "I am trying to approach the whole preparation in as relaxed a manner as possible. I was a mayor for 30 years and during that period I experienced many major events and also some incidents, so I know more or less what to expect. It is important to work steadfastly towards a goal, but you can never predict with 100-percent certainty what is going to happen."
Van Miltenburg : "I have, yes, and I think many people have. Again, it is such an exceptional event! What I did not clearly realise, for instance, is that not only the Queen and the new King sign the Act of Abdication, but the presidents of both Houses too, as witnesses."
5. What would make April the 30th successful in your eyes?
De Graaf : "If everything that day – not just the Joint Session – proceeds in a festive, dignified and safe atmosphere, from the abdication through to the conclusion of the festivities. And finally: I am all in favour of upholding our valuable traditions, so I would be satisfied if, once April the 30th has been and gone, many people recognise its worth for our society."
Van Miltenburg : "For me, the day will be a success if the Joint Session runs smoothly and when everybody, both inside and outside the church, has enjoyed this truly special occasion."