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Can Europe Afford Its Monarchs?

LONDON ( MainStreet) -- As Great Britain marked Queen Elizabeth II's 60th year on the throne this month and prepares for a grand Diamond Jubilee celebration in London this summer, an austerity-minded Europe ponders its ability to afford just about anything -- including its monarchs.

As the European Union faces a sovereign debt crisis, bailouts of various governments and the potential collapse of its euro currency, there's been plenty of belt tightening throughout the continent. Despite these financial constraints, a dozen European countries still support monarchies. That includes eight nations -- Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. -- as well as the effective monarchy of Vatican City and the principalities of Andorra, Lichtenstein and Monaco.

As Great Britain marked Queen Elizabeth II's 60th year on the throne and prepares for a grand Diamond Jubilee celebration, an austerity-minded Europe ponders whether it can afford its monarchs.

So the quick fix is to kick everyone out of the palaces, fire the help and sell off the crown jewels, right? Not really. In Denmark, Queen Margarethe II draws about 80% support. Between 70% and 80% of the Dutch are just fine with keeping Queen Beatrix on the throne for roughly $52 million a year (not counting security and palace maintenance), according to Belgian political scientist Herman Matthijs, while 80% of Norweigians are just wild about King Harald V.

Part of the popularity stems from heritage and national price, but European monarchy experts also see monarchs as goodwill ambassadors in increasingly diverse nations. While countries give up some of their national identities to the European Union, change personality with the arrival of more immigrants and deal with an increasingly global society, a monarch can inspire national unity and welcome newcomers as citizens.

Beatrix used royal speeches to cool rising anti-Islamic sentiment in the Netherlands and call for tolerance. Carl XVI Gustaf, Sweden's king, for example, has used the monarchy to integrate immigrants by suggesting that "new Swedish citizens ... have come here from countries all over the world ... under these circumstances it is precisely the strength of the monarchy that the king can be an impartial and uniting symbol."

In Great Britain, meanwhile, a poll in The Guardian last year found that not only do 67% of Britons think the monarchy is still relevant, but 60% thinks it improves Britain's image around the world. A full 63% say Britain would be worse off without the monarchy.

Some British scholars even see the Queen as a protector of civil liberties and public freedom. Two years ago Eamonn Butler, director of London think tank the Adam Smith Institute, criticized Queen Elizabeth for being too deferential to the prime minister considering a constitution that allows her to check the executive's power. "The only solution is to make our current constitution work," Butler wrote. "It certainly means having a monarch who is prepared to intervene on behalf of the people."