“Albert II was a gifted politician”

Following the announcement of Albert II’s abdication, “Le Soir” met with a few people who followed his reign closely.

Louis Michel often crossed paths with Albert II.

He remembers him as a warm and kind man, fully occupying his royal function.

“A great king”

Interview

Today, Louis Michel, now an MEP from Jodoigne, often crossed paths with Albert II. They met when he was party president, minister of foreign affairs, vice prime minister or again as a European commissioner all in the varying contexts involving Belgian politics and leisure. Here are a few pages about the story of the two men.

What do you remember about the first time you met Albert II once he became king?

I was party president of the Liberal Reform Party, the predecessor of the MR, when I met Albert as a king. The meeting went very well. I remember him as a very direct person. He does not beat around the bush. This signifies two things. Albert is very familiar with his material without flaunting it. He also does not hesitate to pursue a conversation in order to get to the bottom of a topic. I always thought he was very talented in politics.

Can you tell us more about that conversation?

Back in 1995, Jean Gol had just passed away. I was to succeed him as the head of the party. Albert II started to talk to me about him, about the misfortune that had befallen us. He then expressed his strong knowledge of economic realities. Unlike Baudouin, Albert was more down to earth. He pondered on the path to take regarding Wallonia and by what means Brussels could become an economic engine for the entire country.

Aside from the political and professional aspects, did you ever feel friendship for the man?

I immediately felt that he was friendly. He put people at ease; used humor in a timely and skillful manner all the while being honest and speaking his mind. He is not the type to use any kind of overbearing influence. He does, however, pose the kind of questions that show his concern regarding the development of certain events. He’s a man of his time. He grew into the global challenges he confronted. He’s a European through and through. He also had the uncanny ability to gage people and sense their character. He’s thoughtful, kind and open but doesn’t do things simply to please. The king is friendly but not over-indulgent.

Let’s discuss his approach to the community.

Following the elections in 1999, Albert II appointed me as information officer. He followed the development and atmosphere of negotiations very closely without interfering. He had a very effective concept of the power of influence. He had a kind of foreknowledge of issues. When it came to community issues and the institutional developments of the country, he learned to not always be on the defensive. He’s convinced that true just and balanced autonomy can better serve the country’s interest than obsessive retreat into institutional conservatism. He’s truly a very open man.

You have made closer personal connections with the king, especially since you rode motorcycles together in the early 2000’s.

I think it’s because we share a passion for motorcycles. One day he invited me to go with him in the area of Ciergnon. He then invited me to Châteauneuf-Grasse where the king and queen had acquired his house there, “Les Romarins”, in 1991, for yet another excursion. Once even, I was highly honored, that the king and queen came to my house in the Verdun Gorge. The king was riding a motorcycle; the queen was following him by car. I met on that occasion a queen with a truly remarkable sense of esthetics. She had quite a few ideas on landscaping and shared them with me.

When you say “a passion for motorcycles,” do you mean in riding them or the mechanical aspect?

The king is very familiar with the technical characteristics of any motorsport. He’s also cautious. When it came to scooters, he once called my wife to tell me not to ride them. He says, “I’m now cured” (laughter). He took the initiative to call me because prior to that we had decided to try a model I won’t mention here. He didn’t think it was a done deal, so he called me as a favor to dissuade me.

At times did you discuss more philosophical matters, the presence of absence of God, life, death, love…

No, but I do remember that the king and queen were very impressed with what I was doing for Africa. I felt a lot of concern and curiosity from them on the subject. Regarding the North-South multicultural divide in our country, they king and queen have a universal and even eternal vision of Man. The king is convinced that multiculturalism is an asset and an advantage. I believe the same.

How do you judge this twenty-year reign?

He’s a tremendous king. He saw twenty difficult years during which he played the perfect intermediary between the different parts of society.

Once history has finished the accounting, it will not define him as a simply transitional king. Far from it, he’s a great king, a very great king – one who has played a major role in preserving the essentials. He was very active and very proactive. He could feel problems coming before they ever materialized.

He also scrupulously respected all the constitutional prescriptions. He was never tempted to do very liberal interpretations of the constitutional treaty, and remained completely within the parameters of his role: exactly his role, nothing but his role, and never one iota less than his role.

Interview by PASCAL MARTIN

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