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Belgian royals latest to join austerity drive

- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2012

BRUSSELS (AP) - Belgium's King Albert II on Monday said he'll use part of his salary to help pay for the upkeep on his properties, making him the latest European royal whose pocketbook is being squeezed by the economic woes afflicting the continent.

The financial crisis has hit several European countries that still have royal families, including Spain, Britain and Belgium. With their palaces, estates and often ostentatious tastes, monarchs and their kin have faced criticism as governments pass austerity measures, and some have seen their public funding cut.

"It shows that in countries with serious financial problems" even monarchies cannot escape the pressure, said Professor Herman Matthijs, who teaches public finance at Belgium's University of Ghent.

In a rare public statement on his finances, King Albert said he wants to freeze the euro10.8 million ($13.8 million) he gets from the state. He intends to use an automatic 2012 salary inflation adjustment of some 3 percent _ or roughly euro350,000 ($446,000) _ to help pay for some property maintenance costs normally borne by the government.

The amount may be relatively small, but even such a symbolic concession could help ease the pressure on the royal family, which increased last week when it became clear the Belgian constitution forces the government to pay out the inflation adjustment under any circumstance. Such a salary increase would come as Belgium prepares to impose new austerity measures on the population next month.

Belgium must keep its annual budget within the 3 percent of economic output demanded by the European Union or risks steep sanctions.

"We will have to take serious measures in February, and anyone who claims they won't be felt is wrong," Finance Minister Steven Vanackere said Monday.

In a statement, the royal palace said Albert "already had the intention to voluntarily contribute to the austerity measures." The king and his family have a palace in town and on the outskirts as well as several residences across the nation.

In Spain, where the bite of the crisis is especially fierce, the royal palace was assigned an annual budget of euro8.4 million ($11 million) by parliament last year. That was a budget cut of some 5 percent overall and palace employees, including the king, had their salaries cut by up to 15 percent.

Britain's austerity drive also has touched Buckingham palace.

Official accounts showed British taxpayers spent 32.1 million pounds ($49.5 million) supporting the monarchy in 2011, 5.3 percent less than the prior year. Much of the saving came from cutting the maintenance bill of royal residences from 15.4 million pounds ($23.8 million) to 11.9 million pounds ($18.4 million).

Even in the Netherlands, which is still doing well compared to many other European countries, the royals are tightening their belts.

The budget for Queen Beatrix, Crown Prince Willem Alexander and his wife Princess Maxima was cut in 2011 by euro422,000 ($537,000) to euro39.2 million (49.9 million), according to the Royal House website.

Most of the savings came in the form of cuts to the royals' private travel expenses. Also, the queen forked over euro163,000 ($207,466) from her own pocket for maintenance on her private yacht, the Groene Draeck.

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Associated Press Writers Mike Corder in Amsterdam and Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this story.

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