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European royals deal with small taste of austerity

- Associated Press - Sunday, July 22, 2012

MADRID — Spain's Crown Princess Letizia has a penchant for haute couture. Queen Elizabeth II's Bentleys are spotless. Belgium's King Albert II maintains a sumptuous villa in the south of France. But many of Europe's royals are feeling a pinch of the austerity sweeping the continent as it deals with its debt crisis.

The latest in royal belt-tightening comes from Spain, where King Juan Carlos has cut his own salary, as well as that of his son and heir Crown Prince Felipe, by about 7 percent. The avuncular king, who is generally respected by his people, took the step after being engulfed in a public relations nightmare over an expensive elephant-hunting safari he took this spring as Spaniards endured hardship and bailout fears.

Juan Carlos' salary this year will be reduced to about $334,000, and Felipe's wages will fall to $160,000. The cut is in line with a new austerity package unveiled last week. At more than $8 million, the Spanish royal budget is relatively small compared to those of other countries.

The king acted voluntarily, and in the cuts he included Felipe, Queen Sofia, Letizia, and his daughters, Princesses Elena and Cristina.

The female royals do not get a salary per se. But the pool of money available for their expenses is being trimmed, also by about 7 percent, to about $300,000.

Then, there's this: since last year, Royal Palace staffers fly coach.

In Britain, Queen Elizabeth -- long known as one of the world's richest women with her priceless collection of fine art, jewels and real estate holdings -- has opened some parts of Buckingham Palace to tourists, raising money on admission tickets. Palace officials say they have met targets that called for a 25 percent cut in real terms in the use of public expenditures to support the monarchy.

Buckingham Palace officials say the queen -- this year celebrating her Diamond Jubilee to mark six decades on the throne -- has cut her use of public funds to stay in line with wide-ranging budget cuts announced by the government.

That has meant a pay freeze for royal staff, an increased emphasis on generating income through royal properties and a reduction in planned property maintenance, although the royal fleet of Bentleys and other classic cars always appears spotless in public.

Travel costs have stayed high, in part because the queen is dispatching senior royals, including Prince Charles, Prince Harry and Prince William, to far corners of the Commonwealth for Jubilee festivities.

Official accounts showed British taxpayers spent nearly $50 million supporting the monarchy in 2011, 5.3 percent less than the previous year. Much of the saving came from cutting the maintenance bill of royal residences to about $18 million from $24 million.

Dutch Queen Beatrix, who lives in a state-owned palace in a forest on the edge of The Hague, is paid a salary of more than $800,000 a year and also receives more than $ million for "personal and material" expenses. The budget for Beatrix, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife Princess Maxima was cut in 2011 by more than $400,000 to about $40 million, according to the latest figures on the Royal House website.

Most of those savings came in the form of cuts to the royals' private travel expenses. Also, the queen forked over nearly $170,00 from her own pocket for maintenance on her private yacht, the Groene Draeck.

In Belgium, Albert pledged this year to use part of his salary to help pay for the upkeep on his properties.

He made a rare public statement in January saying he wanted to freeze his salary of nearly $14 million from the government. He also intends to use an automatic 2012 salary inflation adjustment of some 3 percent -- roughly $445,000 -- 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 when it became clear the Belgian constitution forces the government to pay out the inflation adjustment under any circumstance.

Scandinavia appears to be the exception to the royal austerity measures.

Norway -- one of the richest countries in Europe -- has not cut its royal budget, nor have neighbors Denmark and Sweden. The countries of Scandinavia have largely dodged Europe's debt crisis. Their budgets are in order because they did not spend beyond their means, as countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal did.

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