Reconstruction of a Greek tragedy: a rare royal disgrace.
Less than 36 hours after their departure for sunny places, the Oranges returned to the Netherlands on Saturday evening, where the popular anger about their Greek holiday had not yet subsided. Prime Minister Rutte takes responsibility, as he should. What did he know about the vacation plans? Reconstruction of a Greek Tragedy.
Sunday morning, the cameras are running. Mark Rutte graciously takes the blame for the king’s Greek holiday in corona time, dressed casually in a hoodie. “It is my error of judgment and also my mistake not to say in time: we have to weigh that again”, says the prime minister about the vacation plans of King Willem-Alexander. Earlier that Sunday morning, he already sent a letter about the tricky issue to the Lower House. Hadn’t Rutte really thought that a holiday of the king and his family in Greece would attract fire? We won’t know soon. The contact between king and prime minister is secret, a black box. What is certain is that the king himself did not realize that his plans could lead to fireworks. His political antenna failed. While the ministers called on everyone not to go abroad, Willem-Alexander and his family did leave. Top sources remain silent on the matter. “If I say something, I might break the unity of the Crown,” one of them says. It has been agreed that the king is inviolable and the ministers are responsible for his actions. What exactly preceded it? Friday afternoon, 48 hours earlier: almost the autumn holiday, King Willem-Alexander has one more duty. The departing Kazakhstan ambassador to the Netherlands comes by for a farewell audience. The diplomat is not received at the Noordeinde work palace in The Hague, but “at home” at Huis ten Bosch. After this last ceremony, Willem-Alexander can quickly join the rest of the family, which is already looking forward to the approaching trip to sunny Greece.
The Oranges do not want to lose a minute when it comes to holidays. For example, before the summer holidays in 2019, the family will receive journalists for the usual photo session. On their way to the gate of Huis ten Bosch, they are already overtaken by a van with AA registration, in which there are numerous suitcases and a large surfboard. Those things have to go to the government plane quickly, because the summer vacation of six weeks is about to begin. Now the autumn holidays. The family leaves Huis ten Bosch around noon. On the way to Schiphol-East, where the government aircraft PH-GOV is waiting. The Boeing 737 Business Jet has been the new government aircraft since last year. Cost: 90 million euros. Ministers and state secretaries fly back and forth with it. 12 percent of the flights are due to the House of Orange, also for private use. Like this Friday. The Oranges go through a VIP entrance along the military police and walk to the aircraft. In good spirits and not bothered by any knowledge of the figurative bomb that will explode during their flight.
The white PH-GOV is decorated with blue letters: Kingdom of the Netherlands. Usually passengers of the government aircraft get into the hangar, now the aircraft waits outside for minutes, probably for the passengers who board with a covered airplane staircase. They taxi to the Polderbaan and take off at 14.04 hours, for a flight of just under three and a half hours. Usually the king flies himself; in this way he obtains sufficient flying hours for his license, in addition to his work as a guest pilot on KLM scheduled flights. The family is still on the way when the squabbling in the kingdom that they have just left behind erupts. They fly near the Adriatic Sea when Deputy Prime Minister Hugo de Jonge does the weekly press conference, because Rutte is at the EU summit of government leaders in Brussels.
Politics The Hague will follow the live stream of the press conference as always. De Jonge receives a question about the king’s holiday. “It’s not my day job to keep up with that,” he says visibly uncomfortably. Freek Manche, deputy director-general of the Government Information Service and responsible for matters concerning the Royal House, says when asked that he is not aware of the king’s holiday. At that moment the bomb bursts in The Hague. “How the hell is this possible,” exclaims one prominent coalition. In dozens of app groups around factions and ministers, bewilderment dominates. Group chairmen text their MPs who speak about the Royal House. The news is spreading like an oil slick.
In preparation for the press conference, De Jonge spoke briefly with Freek Manche about possible fuss about the King’s holiday. The reason was a tweet from Menno Swart. This aviation journalist has a day’s work following the PH-GOV. He tweets daily about the flights of this aircraft, especially when a royal party is on board, and nowadays also follows the Oranges during state visits. It is not all love between Swart and the royal family. If the journalist incorrectly posts a sound recording in 2019 in which the voice of the king as pilot of the government aircraft could be heard, Willem-Alexander cannot stop himself. In February of this year, at the end of his state visit to Indonesia, he chatted Swart during a traditional conversation with journalists who traveled along. After Friday’s tweet, posted by Swart, unprecedented popular anger arises on social media. The Oranges can get the national wrath at an altitude of 10,000 meters. They have access to WiFi on board the government aircraft. In The Hague, MPs on the left are quick to act when it comes to the House of Orange. PvdA Member of Parliament Attje Kuiken says he cannot imagine that Rutte has not spoken to the king about the holiday. SP Member of Parliament Ronald van Raak says that the king “does not sense the spirit of the times”. GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver tweeted: “If the king is going on vacation now, that is really the wrong signal. We ask people to stay at home as much as possible, then these kinds of messages will not help. “” Joost Sneller of D66 wants clarification, CDA MP Harry van der Molen is tinkering in his kitchen on his marmoleum floor when he sees his smartphone explode. He texts journalists without mentioning the king. “The corona rules apply to everyone. It is undesirable if there is a discussion about this. The image that is now emerging raises questions for many people. I ask the prime minister to clarify this. “” Also member of parliament Bart Smals of the largest governing party VVD cannot avoid distancing himself: “It would not have been my choice,” he says in a slightly muffled manner.
There is only one thing to do: return
After the press conference, Hugo de Jonge feels very uncomfortable. The Government Information Service realizes that there is a lot of traffic on the way. At the end of the afternoon there is telephone contact with the king. There is a growing realization that a huge publicity accident is taking place here. There is only one thing to do. Return. Where the last holiday in Greece was marred by a stupidity, a photo with a Greek restaurant owner well within 1.5 meters, the excuse was quickly made. But apologies cannot be dismissed, in this case. Royal grumpy? The RVD sends out a press release at a quarter to nine. No apologies, Willem-Alexander and Máxima announce that they will return home because of reactions that are “intense”. “We will abort our vacation,” the couple promise. The coalition is annoyed about the mistake Rutte made. “How can you talk all week about how to deal with behavioral change around corona and then do this?”
Even before the decision to return is taken, the government aircraft has already taken off to the Netherlands. An empty leg is what aviation circles call it. The Oranges usually travel the stretch from the airport in Athens to their villa in the Peloponnese by helicopter, over the beautiful Gulf of Aegina. Barely 24 hours after their arrival in Greece, they take the same route back home, in a completely different mood.
Back with KLM
To avoid more criticism, the king decided to take a KLM scheduled flight from Athens to Schiphol. They board flight KL1576 last Saturday evening at the beginning of the evening, passengers in economy class get nothing from the special company. They only see when they walk to the exit at Schiphol through all the messages on their telephone that the king and his family were also flying along. A blue van will be waiting for them on Saturday evening to drive them to Huis ten Bosch palace as quickly as possible. A number of journalists at the driveway on the steps side of the palace saw there just after the landing of the KL1576 that the personal standard of King Willem-Alexander was raised, the flag that flies above the palace when the head of state is in the country. . Forty-five minutes later, the royal party flashes past in the van: the women wearing masks, Willem-Alexander not. The grumpiness can be read on his face. Less than 36 hours after his departure, he is home – after his biggest slip in his kingdom so far.