News / Europe

New Belgian King Faces Tough Task of Uniting Divided Nation

Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe takes part in a scientific conference in Antwerp, July 4, 2013.
Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe takes part in a scientific conference in Antwerp, July 4, 2013.
Reuters
The monarchy, along with soccer and beer, is viewed as one of the rare things that unify linguistically divided Belgium and when Prince Philippe becomes its new king on Sunday he will try to prove this is still so.

The early signs are that he has work to do. In a poll conducted by the private TV stations VTM and RTL, just under half of all Flemish respondents believed Philippe would be a good king, compared to two-thirds of respondents in Wallonia.

The political bickering between French-speaking Wallonia in the south and Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north extended into the debate about the future monarch even before King Albert II announced his plan to abdicate two weeks ago.

Far-right Flemish separatists Vlaams Belang will not attend Sunday's coronation ceremony. The more moderate Flemish separatist party N-VA will be represented, but not by its figurehead Bart De Wever, the mayor of Antwerp.

“The idea that we need a fundamentally undemocratic institution such as the monarch to ensure political stability in this country, which I doubt, tells you more about this country than about the monarchy,” De Wever wrote in an open letter to the prince in May.

In the neighboring Netherlands, the monarch no longer has a role in politics.

In Belgium, although the institution is largely ceremonial, laws need the king's signature to come into force and, after an election, he appoints mediators to aid the formation of a  governing coalition - typically a protracted process.

Philippe drew criticism when he entered the political debate in 2004, accusing Vlaams Belang of trying to rip Belgium apart.

“I can assure you that such people will have me to deal with,” he told Story magazine in an interview at the time.

N-VA calls for the monarch's role to be purely ceremonial, while the French-speaking parties, including the Socialists of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, oppose this.

“It's not always clear whether it is a fundamental debate about a republic versus a monarchy or whether it's about Flanders versus Belgium. I think it's the latter,” said Dave Sinardet, politics lecturer at the universities of Antwerp and Brussels.

Flemish critics view the 53-year-old Philippe as a French-speaking outsider. He is far less comfortable speaking Dutch than French, although he went to a Dutch-language secondary school after primary education in French.

Winning hearts and minds of the people, as newly crowned Willem Alexander has done in the Netherlands, may also depend on whether Philippe can soften his reserved image.

His wife Mathilde, who is often seen at public events involving children and appears more outgoing than her husband, proved more popular in the opinion poll by VTM and RTL.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid