The new king is already making his mark

Throughout the entire weekend, the new monarch has put his personal touch here and there, and has included some surprises. He has already left his mark at the beginning of his reign, while maintaining continuity with his father. Here are some of the new royal accents.

It was predicted in 1993 that it would be a challenge for Albert II to fill “Saint” Baudouin’s shoes. Fast forward to today, it would be an understatement to say that Philippe was meeting at least an equal challenge in picking up the baton from the very popular Albert II. During this weekend of the changing of the guard, it has become obvious that the new king’s course so far has been smooth and without error. He is careful to carry on with royal continuity while leaving his own mark.

Presenting Mathilde

During his speech from the throne that took place during the Chamber swearing in, Philippe presented one of his main assets, his wife. He hardly said six sentences before turning to Mathilde and declaring to her, using familiar language “I am aware of my good fortune to be able to count on my wife, Queen Mathilde. Dear Mathilde, for many years now, you have invested yourself with all your heart in numerous activities. You have an innate sense of human connection. We confidently begin with our dear children this new chapter in our lives and for our country.” This was a confession that she has the gift for communication, and not he. He intends to use her talent.

Let’s then recap: this is a team that the palace will now “sell”. They now represent the palace to a greater degree than Albert and Paola ever did. The “complimentary team” of Philippe the workhorse and the spontaneous Mathilde, will be put forward. The new king admits he needs his spouse’s help. At 1 p.m. he demonstrated his affection for her in his own subdued way. She’s the one who embraces him, and he’s the one to takes her hand and kisses it tenderly.

Political pledges

It’s no secret, and it is proven by how the political world obstinately held onto the 79-year-old king, that the traditional parties headed by the government were in no hurry to see Philippe’s rapid ascension to the throne. They feared his interventionism.

Right from the gate, Philippe wants to reassure the leaders at every level. Shortly after the constitutional pledge was pronounced, he assured the chamber (as predicted in this weekend’s Le Soir) that he will work in “perfect harmony with the government within the constitutional framework.” The message is clear. Yes, I’m familiar with my role. Yes, I understand the limitation of my influence. No, I don’t step beyond my boundaries, and yes, I will collaborate with you. Has he begun to put them at ease? “He’s eager to be of service, and from the moment of the announcement of the abdication, everything has unfolded smoothly,” says the CDH deputy prime minister Joëlle Milquet. Her party’s president, Benoît Lutgen, swears even that the political class is “completely at ease, except for those who protest the existence of the monarchy in the first place. There is no doubt that he will respect the boundaries of his role.”

Those who feared his interventionism “have not been fair to him. He is perfectly conscious of each person’s role within the rule of law and has confirmed his respect for the constitution,” continues the MR president Charles Michel. He confirms “the will of the government to be at his side will help the institutions, each in its own function.” Didier Reynders, his deputy prime minister, concludes that, “it will be up to the new king to engage in such a way that he will be accepted by all Belgians.” He recalls that during Albert’s coronation some had their doubts, which were quickly dissipated.

The PS president of the Chamber, André Flahaut, recalls, “Philippe’s speech, his conviction, his activism can produce support.”

On one hand, he continues to reassure the federal government. He also wants to make a pledge to the regions and the communities. This of course is presented through a speech from the throne. “The strength of Belgium resides also in its federated entities,” he states to the great joy of the minister presidents. “I have every intention of maintaining constructive relationships with their leaders”.

To prove that he approves of the new institutional architecture, he, of whom it was said that he wanted a more united Belgium, specifically points out the latest state reform that transfers major tasks to the regions. “I am convinced that cooperation between the federal state, the communities, and the regions will function in the best interest of our citizens and our businesses.”

Kris Peeters, the Flemish minister president, is delighted to hear this. “I am very pleased because he affirmed the importance of the regions. I emphasized last week that it’s important that the minister presidents all be at the same level as the prime minister. The new king has understood this very well.”

He extends a hand to the public

The king also insists on making pledges to the citizens. He announced to the parliament, “I have been able to forge relationships over the years with many of my fellow citizens. I will build on this dialogue” and “I begin my reign eager to serve all Belgians.”

Early in the evening in the royal park he met with the crowd – relaxed, with a smile on his face. He saved his first surprise for his fellow citizens by appearing at the palace balcony at 10:20 p.m. with a few words  just for them. First some very simple words of gratitude: “Thank you for being here to celebrate this grand moment with us. Thank you for your support and trust.” These words get a little repetitive and tired toward the end of this day since Philippe, using his notes, is rejoicing for having “lived together this wonderful day.” He is “proud of our beautiful country,” and he wishes to all “a wonderful celebration” and “enjoyable fireworks”.

But Philippe knows he must show his human side, get close to people, and step out of his reserved, controlled, even robotic image. He’ll be working on that very shortly. In his speech on the throne, he “encouraged” those who are severely affected by the crisis. “Each one of us has hidden talent that is only waiting to be revealed.” I believe in you. Do you believe in me?

Homage to his father

If Philippe appears to be different at first, he also walks resolutely in the path of continuity. In his speech, he borrows some of Albert II’s favorite themes; Europe, a country brimming over with talent, Belgian inventiveness, “combination of unity and diversity”…

Most of all though he is part of a royal line and strongly honors his father. He is the first one he turns to in Parliament. “The constitutional pledge is a solemn promise that renews the relationship of trust. It has existed almost for 200 years between the king and the Belgian people. Today, I am succeeding 6 other kings, one of whom is my father, King Albert. Sire, for 20 years you preserved this trust by being close to everyone, warm and profoundly human on one hand, and on the other, you were attentive and engaged in the fulfillment of your responsibility as head of state (…) With all serenity, dignity and devotion, you stood by the Belgian people. We are grateful to you for this.”

As of Saturday night at Bozar, the palace of fine arts, he surprised his father by addressing him to praise his sense of humor that is “your way of putting people at ease and finding a personal balance.” He had even another surprise up his sleeve by offering him a piece from the Framboise frivole comedy music group.

Willing enthusiasm

Willingness is part of his personality. Sunday, Philippe the introvert, in control of his sentiments, showed himself rather than his emotions. He also displayed the solemnity proper to the importance of the hour. He declared to parliament “I am conscious of the responsibility that from now on, rests on my shoulders” while at the same time exhibits his own enthusiasm: “Together, let’s give our country new enthusiastic momentum.”  

Together: the word came up three times in his speech on the throne. It is one word that he addresses to all Belgians, as responsible citizens. “It’s a mindset that has forged our character and values. We face together our most complex issues, reconcile differing aspirations, and integrate them without losing the originality or power of each. This also forged our inventiveness and our sense of proportion.” This is how he’s determined to work.

All these words spoken on Sunday without trembling like his father did 20 years prior; and with determination. Philippe filled his royal garb with more confidence than many thought he would.

MARTINE DUBUISSON

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