King Albert II finally did it. He announced his abdication to the people of Belgium at 6 pm in favour of his son Philippe, current duke of Brabant. Just after his address to the Nation, the Belgian PM, Elio di Rupo, paid tribute to him highlighting his courage during a special press release.
The abdication of the King of the Belgians is not really surprising insofar as it was evocated several times (due to the physic condition of the monarch), it was only a rumour some analysts and constitutionalists considering Albert II had to keep on reigning, in spite of all. Political crisis, disputes between French speaking and Dutch speaking communities, and tiredness after twenty years of reign finally were right to his will and capacity of reign.
Nonetheless, Albert II’s abdication is a nice and real political trick at the moment the Belgian monarchy was undergoing important critics, just one year before legislative elections considered as very important for the stability of the country due to the Flemish nationalists’s breakthrough and influence. Indeed, Bart de Wever, current mayor of Antwerp and Nieuwe Vlaams Alliantie (New Flemish Alliance, NV-A) leader made of the royal family his favourite target when he tackles Belgium, a Belgium, in its current organization, is not efficient anymore and should be led to a “Copernican revolution” what means the move from a Federal system to a Con-federal one, achieving the scission of Belgium and the emergence of an independent Flanders.
Engine and guardian of a unity several times questioned these previous years, the Belgian monarchy has seemed to lose dynamism and credibility especially since a moment, some people considering it was unable to reform itself, an argument put forward by Bart de Wever’s supporters but also those who are still attached to the royal family. Repetitive scandals, Albert II’s political positions vis-à-vis the Flemish nationalist movement, and Queen Fabiola – Baudouin’s widow, the Albert’s brother and predecessor – financial opaque operations not only tarnished the image of the monarchy but also gave more arguments for those who wished to reduce or make disappear one of the last and tenacious symbols of Belgium, especially in Flanders where the support to monarchy is less and less strong and obvious compared with Wallonia. Abdicating for the next 21th of July, Belgian National Day, Albert II of Belgium give an unique occasion to his son Philippe to carry on the modernization of monarchy rather than undergoing as the recent reform of royal allowances, voted by the Elio di Rupo’s centre-left government some weeks ago and which obliges the royal family to pay taxes (for the first time since 1830), shows.
The question is to know if Albert II’s abdication will be profitable, politically speaking, and vis-à-vis Bart de Wever who is still the Flanders’ most important leader and who dreams of making the May 2014 elections a referendum on the maintain or not of Belgium in its current configuration. This is the gamble Albert II did who hopes the rejuvenation of the monarchy will contribute to give a new breathe to Belgium, as King of the Netherlands Beatrix’s abdication in favour of his son, Willem-Alexander, on the last April. This is a real risky gamble insofar as some people are still wondering on the capacity of Philippe, future King of the Belgians, to federate and reign on a Belgium working under tension between French speaking and Dutch speaking communities, despites a relative calm. Which supposes he cares his important deficit of image in Flanders, first of all.