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Abdication in Belgium (100 things #13)

Yesterday, King Albert II of the Belgians announced that he is abdicating. You can watch his speech in French in the YouTube video below. I’ve also been pondering a bit about this – I’m by no means a Belgium expert or follow the Belgian royals avidly, so feel free to chime in if you want.

2013 is really turning into the year of abdications, isn’t it? First the Netherlands, then the Emir of Qatar announces that he will be abdicating, and now the King of the Belgians follow suit.

In short, the speech touches upon the fact that the King has reached an age that his predecessors hasn’t and he feels his age and his 20 years on the throne. He has experienced that he is not able to fulfill the role of King as well as he wishes and as Belgium demands. He will abdicate on July 21, which is the National Day of Belgium. 

He adds he views that Prince Philippe is well prepared for the succession through the economic missions abroad, and he has full confidence in him and Princess Mathilde. 

The King includes that one of the most valuable thing about Belgium is its citizens and the diversity and energy from them. The role of the Belgian monarchy is only in existence to serve the democracy and the citizens of Belgium, and must evolve with the times. He has appreciated the sympathy, as well as the critique, that he has received and adds that all of it have been very much loved. 

There have long been speculation on Albert’s possible abdication, as there was in the Netherlands with Beatrix. I think that by doing it now, when Belgium seems more or less stable (and have a government after the 2010-2011 world record for longest time to form a democratic government after an election), he and his advisors, believe that Philippe and Mathilde can get a good start.

Unlike many of the other hereditary couples out there, they aren’t all that popular with the people of Belgium, and will likely need whatever solid base they can get to start on.

The timing is perhaps also affected by the King’s presumed daughter, Delphine Boël, who is shaking up the dust at the palace again, by suing and demanding DNA testing done.

Before Albert’s brother King Baudouin’s death in 1993, there was talk of Albert renouncing his claim to the throne in favour of his son Philippe.  Philippe was groomed to be Baudouin’s successor, but ultimately, as Baudouin died when Philippe was rather young and unmarried, this process was not seen through.

Now, he’s a 53 year old, father of four.

The Belgian Le Soir, describes King Albert II as the happy king, and has comments from people mentioning that he was beyond the institutions in the country, and understood what the people wanted.

Most reports seem dubious as to whether Philippe can handle the mantle of king, but some said that he has an appetite for the function, loves Belgium and could surprise us all. He has prepared for this position for years.

But, at the same time, the contrast to the abdication in the Netherlands could not be greater. Though the Dutch love Beatrix, they all also turn very orange and nationalistic to celebrate Willem-Alexander and Máxima when they have their visits to the Dutch provinces now. I’m rather dubious if we’ll see a huge nationalistic wave in Belgium to the same degree (or any degree) for Philippe and Mathilde.

Or any sort of nationalistic feelings for Belgium itself, really.

The abdication does  seem to draw out questions on Belgium. It has not been seen as a very united, stable country with a very divided population (and politicians, especially) – will it still be in existence when Philippe hands the torch over to Princess Elisabeth?

There were questions when Elisabeth was born if she would ever become Queen of the Belgians, and, in fact, if Philippe would ever become King of the Belgians. Now the latter is coming true on July 21.

Will Belgium still exist in 2030, for its 200th anniversary?

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