What role for a Belgian monarch?

30th March 2006, Comments 1 comment

Crown Prince Filip plunged himself into renewed controversy this month. But who is to blame and what future role can he carve out for the Belgian royal family? Aaron Gray-Block reports.

Crown Prince Filip sacked his top adviser this week, making Didier Nagant de Deuxchaisnes the scapegoat of his controversial trade mission to South Africa earlier this month.

Prince Filip (centre) ... is he up to the role of Belgian King?

Government sources said the French-speaking Nagant is "out of place as communication adviser".

The diplomat's initial task was to create more openness around the palace but is now considered "too friendly" and has been blamed for several controversies.

One of these 'incidents' is an interview in December 2004 in which Prince Filip launched a controversial attack on the extreme-right Flemish Interest.
Nagant's replacement is now being carried out discreetly and is officially part of the routine reshuffling of diplomatic posts that occurs every four years.

How did it start?

Prince Filip and wife Mathilde arrived home on 17 March after a week-long trade mission to South Africa.

But they flew into a storm of protest as Flemish business leaders said the trip yielded good possibilities "in spite" of the prince's presence. Filip is said to have been uninterested, lazy and poorly prepared.

"The prince perhaps open doors due to his function, but sometimes closes them again by his clear lack of interest," one business leader said.

And the reportedly unenthusiastic speech the prince gave on 16 March to South African business leaders is said to have almost been the same as his two previous speeches.

Defending the prince

Despite the criticism, State Secretary and noted republican Vincent Van Quickenborne who accompanied Filip to South Africa said his first mission with the prince was informative and useful.

"The prince opens doors, something which benefits the business community," Van Quickenborne said.

Former Flemish economy minister Fientje Moerman said the trade mission greatly assisted the Antwerp diamond industry.

The chief of small and medium-sized business association Unizo, Karel Van Eetvelt, downplayed talk that the prince showed a lack of interest and said he knows that small businesses are Belgium's economic "motor".

Wall of diplomacy

Many people who come into contact with Prince Filip confess he is no genius, but also assert he is a very interested and motivated man.

However, some claim he is too stiff, possesses a lack of flamboyance or has poor communication skills. Some stories even suggest he is incompetent.

And though the royal family rarely replies to media criticism, King Albert II was overheard telling a journalist while returning from a state trip to Lithuania that recent criticism against his son had inflicted a lot of heartache.

Even more surprisingly, Prince Filip agreed this month to an interview with newspaper 'De Standaard' as royal sources confirmed that the criticism over the past couple of weeks had indeed been difficult to "swallow".

However, the newspaper ran into a wall of diplomacy. Its questions were only answered after Francophone newspaper 'La Libre' was given the chance to lodge questions to avoid a linguistic dispute.

Having lodged its questions on 22 March, De Standaard finally received the prince's delayed reply at 7pm on 24 March after having them checked by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.

In the final text delivered to the media, Prince Filip is accused of saying very little. In fact, he stressed it is the government's constitutional responsibility to respond to questions lodged with the royal family.

Family man ... Prince Filip with wife Mathilde and three children

He also lamented that "we can't be open enough and that we must take special initiatives with the media".

Explaining that the role of royal family members was not to be "media stars", Prince Filip said, "I am not insensitive to criticism. But fortunately, we also get a lot of expressions of sympathy".

He said the royal family will continue to do what is required of it: to represent and

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