This Sunday 21st of July will be an important date in the History of Belgium. There will be the traditional day (celebrating the Léopold’s oath, first king of the Belgians) and two kings succeeding each other at the head of country officially. Albert II will abdicate at 11.45 AM. One hour and half later, his son Philippe will swear fidelity to the Belgian constitution and people’ laws and will be the seventh king of the Belgians.
But may Philippe I be the last king of Belgium? This provocative but serious issue should be raised, taking into account the current political situation and the role of monarchy in the country, still in tension between Dutch and French speaking communities. On the point the “Joyeuse sortie” (the official farewells of the king to the Belgian population this week) seemed to mobilize more people in Wallonia than Flanders. At Ghent, there were a hundred people only in comparison with Eupen (2,000) and Liege (5,000) for the last royal tour in the three regions and communities (Dutch, German and French), that gives new arguments for people who wonder – especially in Flanders – on the relevance of a monarchist system and wish its move to a protocol monarchy or even its disappearance, as the nationalist leader Bart de Wever. The advent of Philippe as king but the next May general elections will be the occasion for the main political parties and families to deal with it and debate.
This query is issued at the moment some people are wondering on the capacity of king Philippe to reign on an already instable country. The current and still prince is aware he will be judged, scrutinized, spied and under surveillance, any opinion may be used against him, if it is misunderstood especially. As Béatrice Delvaux, former Le Soir chief editor summed up some years ago well, Philippe of Belgium did not choose to be king and knows a lot of Belgian people count on him to embody and defend the unity of his country, more and more challenged.
But Philippe has assets and knows the first weeks and months of his reign will be very important as the 2014 post-elections period, if Flemish and Walloons failed to find a compromise. Will be a discreet king or referee respecting his prerogatives? Will not be afraid to get his hands dirty or prefer observing from far and acting backstage? This is the way he sees and considers his reign he will be positively or not judged by his people. What is more, the future king will have to find his style, his personality which will be different compared with his father and his uncle, Baudouin, anyway. This future king can be backed by his family and his wife Mathilde, real asset in this permanent changing Belgium. The future king will have to carry on and not undergo the current and probable coming mutations of his State and protect and harshly defend the unity of Belgium both, which supposes another way of communicating vis-à-vis a Flanders more and more critical and tired by the monarchy especially.
This is in a Belgium perpetual construction that future king Philippe will have to be seen as indispensable and show his capacities. The challenge seems to be complicated, not to say really complicated, due to the current political organisation and situation. But Philippe knows he has nothing to lose and, all it is requested to him is to do his “work” finally.