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King may lose might in constitutional revamp

Published on 01/02/2006

1 February 2006

BRUSSELS — With the exception of the still undecided Francophone Liberals, the federal government has reached consensus on restricting the role of the Belgian monarch to a purely ceremonial function.

The government’s attitude can be traced back to doubts about the ability of Prince Filip to successfully follow in the footsteps of his father, King Albert II. These doubts appear to be growing as the moment of succession approaches.

Some 12 months before the government has to make a definitive decision, the current opinion — especially among the Flemish coalition government parties — is that Prince Filip is not up to the job of being King.

The Francophone Socialist PS is also concerned about Filip’s abilities and doubts are starting to grow among the Francophone Liberal MR party.

After countless embarrassing incidents in recent years, MR party stalwart and European Commissioner Louis Michel has tried to convince King Albert II and his entourage that they need to show greater professionalism.

However, great distrust remains and it is feared that King Filip I might give more cause for the nation to split, rather than serve as a uniting force.

Doubts about Filip’s abilities are in part due his controversial statements that have breached the principle of royal neutrality in Belgium. He has also indicated in the past the intention to rule actively by utilising the full extent of his legal powers.

It is feared that Filip would echo the reign of his uncle, King Boudewijn, who not often willingly bowed to a parliamentary majority. Such a stance is in contrast to King Albert II, who rarely makes a fuss of signing legislation into law.  

Some observers also suggest that Filip would not have gladly signed recent liberalising laws such as the legalisation of euthanasia, gay marriages or abortion regulations.

The federal government is therefore expected to amend the Constitution next year to restrict the role of the nation’s monarch, newspaper ‘Het Nieuwsblad’ reported on Wednesday.

Filip could lose the right to appoint the public figure in charge of leading federal government coalition talks, the right to sign legislation into law and even the right to a weekly meeting with the prime minister, who he can currently try to influence.

It means that Filip could become the first Belgian monarch to rule based on a Swedish model, which gives limited powers to the sovereign based on its 1975 Constitution.

Parliamentary sources believe that King Albert II will step down from the Belgian throne in favour of his son Filip during the following government’s term of office (2007-11).

[Copyright Expatica News 2006]

Subject: Belgian news