“Continue to move with the times”

An abdication speech is by no means trivial and is, by definition, a perilous task. The words read out by Belgium’s King Albert II, in a firm voice filled with emotion, will be studied from every angle. Approved by the Prime Minister, the speech was an exercise in restraint, and focused on four crucial themes that will likely be highlighted by future historians.

 

The King’s health. I realize that my age and my health are no longer allowing me to carry out my duties as I would like to.” From the outset, Albert II stated the real reasons behind his decision to step down. It was not due to weariness or disinterest in the end, but to a body that could no longer support the demands of the role. Having clearly decided to get straight to the point and eliminate any doubt among the Belgian public, the King delivered his message on his feet, facing the camera. Showing no signs of the trembling that had been evident during his coronation 20 years before, he proved that he may yet still have many years ahead of serene retirement ahead of him.

 

Confidence in Philippe. “I note that Prince Philippe is well prepared to succeed me. I have total confidence in him and in Princess Mathilde.” The speech obviously made mention of the King’s son, but it could be argued that parts were also aimed directly at Philippe, who does not enjoy unanimous support. But his approval was clear, as he underlined his successor’s long royal apprenticeship. Seemingly addressing those that still doubt his son, Albert II brought Mathilde, Philippe’s wife, into the debate, conveying the message that a strong couple will be taking up the mantle.

 

Belgians are amazing. “If there is one thing I have learned over time, it is that our country can boast an extraordinary asset – YOU, my dear citizens!” In the official transcript, the “You” is written in capital letters, for any avoidance of doubt. Albert II may be giving up his throne, but he evidently remains confident in the future of Belgium, which he believes can count on the genius and talent of its inhabitants. “The future of our country is in good hands,” he added. In putting it in those terms, he aimed to involve everyone, and reassure them that there is no need to panic.

 

Devoted to democracy. “The role and its legitimacy require the King of Belgium to devote himself to democracy and to his fellow citizens, the only holders of our sovereignty. In this respect, the monarchy must continue to move with the times,” he said, in what was undoubtedly the most politically charged section of the speech.

 

Prior to that, Albert II stressed that he had a very clear vision of the function that a royal family must fulfill. His desire for the monarchy to serve an evolving democratic system and to evolve in tandem with it was a constant mantra of his two decades on the throne. It will be the King’s lasting legacy.

 

ERIC DEFFET

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