New era for Denmark as Queen Margrethe abdicates

Denmark turns a page in its history on Sunday when Queen Margrethe abdicates and her son becomes King Frederik X, with more than 100,000 Danes expected to turn out for the unprecedented event.

The hugely popular chain-smoking Queen Margrethe II, 83, will leave her residence at Copenhagen’s Amalienborg Palace shortly after 1:30 pm (1230 GMT) for a short carriage ride to Christiansborg Palace, the seat of government and parliament.

There, at a Council of State at 2:00 pm, she will sign a declaration of abdication ending her 52-year reign, only the second time a Danish sovereign has stepped down, the last one Erik III almost nine centuries ago in 1146.

Her 55-year-old son Frederik — who will also attend the Council of State along with his Australian-born wife Mary and their eldest child, 18-year-old Prince Christian — automatically becomes king and head of state upon Margrethe’s abdication.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen will then proclaim him King Frederik X on the balcony of Christiansborg Palace.

“The balcony serves only this purpose,” joked historian Lars Hovbakke Sorensen in an interview with AFP.

“The last time, in 1972 (when Margrethe became queen after the death of her father), there were more than 10,000 people on the square below. We’re expecting more this time,” he said.

Police expect at least 10 times that in the streets of the capital.

“It’s impossible to say how many but I think there will be more than 100,000 people,” Copenhagen police official Peter Dahl told AFP, adding that police reinforcements had been called in from across the country.

– ‘Soul of the nation’ –

Hotels and rail and airline tickets have been fully booked since the queen dropped her bombshell abdication announcement in her annual televised New Year’s Eve address.

Aske Julius, a 27-year-old Copenhagen resident, said Saturday he hoped to get a good spot to see the proclamation of the new king.

“More than half of the Danish population has never known anything else but the queen,” he said. “She’s really the embodiment of Denmark… the soul of the nation.”

Apart from the abdication, the protocol is largely similar to previous royal successions in Denmark.

No foreign dignitaries or royals are invited, and there is no coronation or throne for the new monarch.

Margrethe chose to abdicate exactly 52 years to the day after she took over from her father, Frederik IX.

“There’s a lot of symbolism around this day,” Cecilie Nielsen, royal correspondent for Danish public broadcaster DR, told AFP.

The queen’s abdication announcement stunned Danes, after she had repeatedly insisted she would follow tradition and reign until her death.

Even her own family was only informed three days prior.

She attributed her decision to health issues after undergoing major back surgery last year.

Opinion polls show that more than 80 percent of Danes support her decision.

Margrethe will retain her title of queen and may represent the royal family on occasion.

– ‘Different’ monarch –

Experts say that passing the baton to her son now will give him time to flourish in his role as monarch, after gradually taking on increasing responsibilities.

“She thinks the crown prince is totally ready to take over. And she wants to avoid a situation like in Great Britain where Prince Charles became King Charles after the age of 70,” historian Hovbakke Sorensen said.

Like his mother, Frederik, who has been crown prince since the age of three, enjoys the support of more than 80 percent of Danes.

But he is expected to bring his own style to the monarchy, which dates back to the 10th century Viking era.

“Queen Margrethe II is a woman of her time and Frederik also lives in his own era. He understood that he could not copy her and has managed to define his own image, his own ties to the Danish people,” another historian, Bo Lidegaard, told AFP.

“We will have a different type of monarch, much more informal in his way of speaking with people when he travels across the country,” his colleague Hovbakke Sorensen added.

While his mother is known for her love of the arts and is an accomplished writer and artist, Frederik is an avid sportsman who champions environmental causes.

In Denmark the monarch’s role is largely ceremonial, but he or she does sign legislation, formally presides over the forming of a government and meets with the cabinet regularly.


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