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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid