National News

July 21, 2013

Some facts and figures about Belgium’s monarchy

Here is a brief look at the state of Belgium’s monarchy as King Albert abdicates, making his son  Prince Phillipe the country’s seventh king.

NO RULING QUEENS?

Not yet. For years, only men were entitled to the top royal job, until 1991 when laws were changed to allow princesses to take the throne. That means that Philippe’s eldest daughter, Princess Elisabeth, becomes first in line to the throne after he becomes king.

WHO IS PRINCE PHILIPPE?

He is the eldest of Albert’s three children — two sons and a daughter — and husband of Princess Mathilde, with whom he has two sons and two daughters. For a man seen as lacking charisma and political savvy, he has an impressive resume. He is a trained fighter pilot, went to Oxford University and Stanford grad school, and has led dozens of trade missions boosting Belgian business around the world.

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GE IT?

Being king might sound like a dream job, but in Belgium the monarch has to serve as a unifying figurehead of a nation increasingly divided between Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia. The rift is so deep that it took more than 500 days to build a new ruling coalition after the last general election.

WHAT’S THEIR PROBLEM?

Well, it’s mainly about money: The Dutch-speaking Flemings argue that their prosperous region has for decades been economically propping up the more impoverished French-speaking Wallonia.

DIDN’T ANOTHER EUROPEAN ROYAL JUST QUIT?

Indeed. In neighboring the Netherlands, Queen (now Princess) Beatrix abdicated in May and her son Prince (now King) Willem-Alexander took the throne at a lavish ceremony attended by princes and princesses from around the world.

SO IS BELGIUM HOSTING A BIG PARTY, TOO?

Yes and no. Sunday is a national holiday in Belgium, so it’s always a party and with the changing of the royal guard it’s going to be even bigger than usual. But the guest list is low key, with no foreign royals attending the festivities. Also missing the party are Flemish nationalist lawmakers of the Flemish Interest party who are boycotting the new king’s swearing-in ceremony to highlight their republican sympathies and desire for an independent Dutch-speaking Flanders.

WHAT BECOMES OF THE ROYAL TITLES?

Once a king, always a king, applies to Albert. And once a queen, always a queen, applies to his wife, Paola. In a nation so ambivalent about royalty, Belgium will have two kings and three queens on Monday. The ruling couple of Philippe and Mathilde to start with, followed by the retired couple of Albert and Paola. Plus Queen Fabiola, the widow of Baudouin, Albert’s predecessor.

ANY ROYAL SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET?

After Albert succeeded his brother Baudouin, he became embroiled in a major royal scandal when he acknowledged he’d had a daughter out of wedlock, throwing his marriage with Queen Paola into a major crisis. The issue came to the fore again this spring when the daughter, Delphine Boel, opened court proceedings to prove Albert is her father.

 

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