Coronavirus: how Europe’s monarchs stepped up as their nations faced the crisis

bob_morris_163x122.jpgprofessor_hazell_2000x2500_1.jpgLast Sunday, the Queen spoke to the nation in a rare televised address. The speech was widely praised, and several other European monarchs have made similar attempts to connect with the public. Bob Morris and Robert Hazell argue that her intervention demonstrates the value of an apolitical head of state that remains compatible with modern democracy. 

The British Queen’s address to the nation on Sunday, April 5 evoked huge interest, respect and widespread appreciation. Nearly 24 million people in the UK watched her deliver the four-minute speech, which paid tribute to National Health Service and other key workers, thanked people for following government rules to stay at home and promised ‘we’ll meet again’.

Her words were greeted with almost universal praise from politicians, press and the public alike. But what made it so special? Who advises the Queen on such occasions? And what does it tell us about the monarchy – what can monarchs do that political leaders cannot?

It was special because of its rarity – this was only the fourth occasion on which Elizabeth II has addressed the nation other than in her annual Christmas message. All have marked particular national moments: war in Iraq, the deaths of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother, her thanks for the celebrations for her diamond jubilee. In different ways they bring the nation together – her heartfelt address before Diana’s funeral was especially effective in bringing her people to understand why she had prioritised consoling her bereaved young grandchildren.

The coronavirus speech – a little over 500 words – came invested with the authority of someone able to draw on long personal experience of the country’s trials. Instancing her own message as a 14 year-old to child evacuees wrenched from their families in 1940 was but one way of giving the speech a depth of field to which no politician could aspire. Continue reading

You never know with referendums: a view from Denmark

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The Danes have had eight EU referendums to date. Charlotte Antonsen, a veteran campaigner and former Danish MP, relates her experience of these and draws out lessons for the upcoming British campaign. This piece was originally published as part of the UCL European Institute’s first guest editor week on openDemocracy.

In Denmark we have had eight EU referendums in the last four decades. As a former member of the Danish parliament and EU spokesman from 1990 to 2007, I’ve been directly involved in planning and campaigning for four of them. Below I will share the lessons the UK may draw from this experience, and explain what happened in our last EU referendum in December, the rejection of which came as a big surprise to many.

Voters vote as they please

We have asked the Danes all kinds of different EU-questions. Each time the people have answered yes or no, but it wouldn’t be right to say that the Danes actually answered the question that was put to them on the ballot paper.

Only three months ago we had an EU referendum about freedom, security, and justice. It was about changing one of the Danish opt-outs to a voluntary opt-in model. The reason is that we will have to leave Europol next year if we don’t change the opt-out. So the idea was that the referendum should primarily be about Europol.

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