Every spring, the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken (Serres Royales de Laeken) are open to the public for 3 weeks – the only chance for ordinary folk to admire up close the pioneering architecture of Alphonse Balat, favoured architect of King Leopold II and mentor of one of Europe’s most celebrated Art Nouveau architects, Victor Horta.
The greenhouses are part of the royal palace complex which includes the castle-official residence of the royal family, and the vast lawns and flowerbeds of the Laeken park surrounding the lot.
Built entirely – and innovatively – of metal and glass, the greenhouses are monumental both in beauty and size. And with their extensive collection of exotic flowers and plants, their opening is at an ”unmissable” event for every architecture and plant enthusiast.
Only, there’s a tiny detail that’s bugging me and seems to go unnoticed; at least, whenever I mention it, nobody seems to mind.
To visit the greenhouses, the royal family introduces a paying ticket of €2,5. A modest fee, granted, making it an excellent value-for-money excursion, but why put a price on it at all?
A fee charged by the family that costs the Belgian state a staggering €36 million (in 2015 figures) yearly endowment. Just king Philippe’s annual endowment reaches €10,5 million whereas his father, the retired king Albert II, still receives €923.000 for his services.
That’s the same state that charges citizens between 25% and 50% income tax depending on their annual earnings, part of which goes to finance said endowment. Taxation in Belgium at national level, is one of the highest in Europe, and that’s beside property tax and municipal tax, collected locally at municipal level.
Which brings me to the elephant in the room: why impose a paying ticket to those royal subjects who already pay ”royal” fees through taxation?
The justification on the Belgian Monarchy website – in brief:
All proceeds will go to Œuvres de la Reine (a charity assisting the queen in her philanthropic work), and to the restoration and acquisition of works of art to enhance the royal collection. The royal collection belongs to the Belgian state and includes antique furniture, vintage crockery, paintings and other valuable objets d’art, which adorn the Royal Palace. New or restored works of art will be presented to the public during opening times of the Greenhouses and the Royal Palace.
Around 150.000 people manage to squeeze themselves in, within the limited period of 22 days. Counting, say, around 100.000 paying visitors (-18 get in free), the royals may expect to earn, at least, approx. €250.000.
Am I to understand that the queenly charity and restoration of royal art collection (which, whom are we kidding, is basically there to adorn the palace(s) and off-limits to the public 90% of the time), actually need public funding? It is preposterous.
Although, to their credit, someone had the common sense to drop the farce and delete from the 2015 web page the paragraph describing where the proceeds go (but it is still there on previous years’ pages – [in FR/NL]). If only they could also drop the ”symbolic” fee and let the public enjoy this magnificent monument for free – a much more sensible gesture, particularly in our difficult times of socio-economic crisis and painful cuts.
Until then, no visit to the Greenhouses of Laeken for me. After all, there is always the Botanic Garden in Meise; ticket may be slightly more expensive but earnings go to maintenance, research and plant conservation and, anyway, my objection has never been a matter of price. It is a matter of principle.
Images courtesy of the internet (top two of the Green houses of Laeken, by someone more relaxed about adding to the depth of the already bottomless royal pockets – and, judging by the crowds turning up every year, there are many)…
The Greenhouses of Laeken will remain open between 17/04/2015 – 08/05/2015.
The Botanic Garden of Brussels is open year-round.