Astrid will lead forthcoming missions

As we have been reporting since July 5, Princess Astrid will lead the next economic missions organized by the agency for foreign commerce (ACE), the regions and the federal government. After a discussion in the kern, this decision was announced Thursday by the prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, and the minister of foreign affairs, Didier Reynders, in a joint letter to the three regional minister-presidents.

Didier Reynders explained, “With Elio Di Rupo, we have discussed with the future king, and then his sister, what is possible. The future king desires to maintain the title of honorary president of the agency for foreign commerce, and Princess Astrid is ready to take on the role of head of economic missions. We were especially concerned about the coming missions to South Africa and Angola in October and India in November; we wanted to confirm them quickly to the countries involved. I will formalize the new plan with the agency.”

If these elements have been decided on, others are still to be settled. For example, since we are only talking about the upcoming missions, are we to assume that Astrid will not lead those that follow? “For 2014, we can continue with the princess,” Didier Reynders responds. “In fact, there’s no set limit, but I can’t speak for 2015 or 2016. Right now, it’s impossible to ask Elisabeth, the crown princess, to lead these missions, but one day it may be.”

Another question to be decided: will Lorenz accompany his wife, as Mathilde accompanied Philippe? “We haven’t decided anything for the time being,” Reynders responds. Behind the scenes, some think it’s not necessarily a good idea, given that Lorenz has another profession (he is a banker).

Controversy with the regions

Also to be settled: will there still be four missions per year? “We will see if the rhythm will remain the same,” Reynders explains. “That will also depend on the future king’s state visits, and on what the regions want to do – we already finance two-thirds of the agency.”

State visits? Jean-Claude Marcourt, Walloon minister of foreign commerce, has asked King Philippe to continue to lead the economic missions. The foreign affairs minister does not advise it: “The new king will make visits to meet his foreign counterparts, and tradition demands that these be first to neighboring countries, no doubt the Benelux countries, then France and Germany. These are political visits, as head of state, and celebrities are always invited. Business leaders will still take part, no doubt, but we won’t conduct economic missions with the head of state. Those are two different things.”

In discussing the designation of Astrid on Thursday morning, Didier Reynders restarted a mini-controversy with the regions. Right away, the N-VA, member of the Flemish government, announced that the regions should be part of the decision; Jean-Claude Marcourt said the same thing in La Libre; and in Brussels, some grumbled that Reynders didn’t follow the rules: the agency head is supposed to propose a name to the federal government, before approval by royal decree. In fact, in the terms of the 2002 law that created the ACE, this procedure is set up for when an honorary president is named for the agency, which is not the case here. Reynders states, in addition, that, “the premier has made enough contacts.” The Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters confirms that to the Standaard: in the letter provided to them, Di Rupo asked if the regions could support Astrid.

On the other hand, for Peeters, Astrid is just a “temporary solution”: “For the longer term, we have to discuss this seriously, and see what the future of royal leadership for these missions will look like, and how many we will conduct.”

MARTINE DUBUISSON

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