Interview: “He works things out for the best”

François-Xavier de Donnea (MR) was a federal minister, deputy, senator and mayor of Brussels. In all these roles, he often found himself in King Albert’s company. “I attended his swearing-in. Then, as a parliamentarian, I followed him during his entire reign.”

What did you tell yourself during his swearing-in?

We always wonder how the new sovereign will assert himself while everyone else is in tears and there is only praise for the old sovereign. It’s true that, at the time, we told ourselves that it would be hard for Albert to follow someone as popular and prestigious as King Baudouin. The new king, however, adapted very quickly. He readily entered into his royal function, and performed it with a lot of good sense and talent. But then, yes, at the swearing-in we were a little worried because we saw a king who was very moved, distressed and worried about what to expect. This is what we felt when we saw his body language that day.

In your opinion, what is the most remarkable element of his reign?

What he did during the four years of crisis from 2007 to 2011. We were in a profound political and absurd quagmire. The king was able to lift the country from it and help those whose responsibility it was to get the country right again. He did the country a great favor. He converted a lot of skeptics in a country such as ours where the king is the only intermediary who can bring a solution to a delicate crisis, such as the formation of governments.

I think many people who were hoping to entrust this mediation role to the chamber president, or to someone else during the formation of governments, realized that it’s an essential role for the king, whoever he might be, in a country like ours.

Why is he so important?

The king is the only person to whom people say what’s really on their minds, and he never reveals anyone else’s secrets. If I were a party president, I can’t see myself confiding with an assembly president, even within my party! The king, thanks to his one on one conversations, hears what his conversation partner really thinks. This makes him the best person in terms of knowing the possible solutions, especially in the matter of coalitions. This allows him to work things out carefully for the best. I was a royal mediator in 2008 during one of Mr. Leterme’s resignations, and I think that without the king we would have not been able to make it out of that crisis. That’s the moment I really felt how essential he was.

Does the function or Albert ll’s personality do that?

Albert did very well and under extremely difficult circumstances. King Baudouin never experienced such a serious political crisis.

You celebrated the future King Philippe’s wedding…

An excellent memory! All the princes prior to that had civil ceremonies in the royal palace. This was still the case for Princess Astrid. As the mayor of the city, I thought it would be good for the royal family’s image for the heir to the throne to come get married at Brussels city hall. I approached the palace to suggest the idea. I felt like it would bring the royal family closer to the people. The king immediately said yes, right away! With his intuition and good sense, he understood that the suggestion went in the direction of modernization of the monarchy. It took weeks to organize, but it went off perfectly!

What do you think about Prince Philippe?

He’s very well prepared. He’ll have to, like his uncle and his father, grow into the role. I think that Prince Philippe is shy. I too am shy. I know from experience that shyness tends to be intimidating. You know, each king has his own personality. And he was lucky and married Princess Mathilde!

Interview by VÉRONIQUE LAMQUIN

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