Thursday, August 23, 2007

Surreal Belgium: Country in a Deep Existential Crisis, King Goes on a Holiday

King Albert of BelgiumBelieve it or not: Belgium has been in a crisis for about two months now, a crisis that topped last week-end when King Albert II himself had to intermediate between the parties and that became even worse last night after a difficult meeting that lasted until 4.30 AM. In the mean time, newspapers and websites are organizing polls about whether Flanders should become independent or even join the Netherlands. So where do you think the King is while all this is happening? In his palace in Laken, listening to the radio every hour or checking the news bulletins on the television? Nope, he's having a vacation in the South of France. Ceci n'est pas un roi

So what is it a Belgian king is supposed to fill his time with? From time to time, he has to make a speech on the radio and television, watch a military parade, nominate peers, administer the oath of a federal Minister, produce some off-spring, sign some laws, and, well, that's about it. And yes, play the post-electoral theater piece every four years consisting of appointing, interviewing and discharging those royal negotiators that are supposed to form a new government.

Considering all this, one would think that while Belgium is going through one of the worst existential crises of the last decades, the King would stay in the capital making sure he's available every single hour of the day in case the negotiator needs some assistance. After all, if Belgium would break up, he would be the first to lose his job. Or more correctly: he would be retired, and his eldest son and Crown Prince Philippe would be the one taking the real hit. But if you look at his behavior of the last days, it seems he doesn't really care. Where was he, even though everybody in Belgium knew since this morning that chances were very high that Yves Leterme, the current/former negotiator, would be forced or willing to step down some time in the afternoon or evening? In the South of France! Apparently, nobody had even bothered to warn him that maybe it would be a good idea to return to Belgium, just in case, instead of drinking cocktails in the sun somewhere near a swimming-pool. Talk about getting your priorities right.

The result of all this: Yves Leterme had to wait for several hours until the King finally decided the time was right to come back from the South of France and accept his resignation. Not only did the King show to everybody that he has absolutely no interest in what's supposed to be his full-time job, he even managed to block the process of forming a new federal government in Belgium for several hours. If a president would do something like that, he would probably have to resign too.

Some say a king is much cheaper than having a president. If that's true, Belgium certainly got what it paid for…

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