Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The King of the Belgians.

Pictures: Palace at Brussels; King Albert II and Queen Paola; the royal family and the young generation; Belgian chocolates!!!

Belgium, with Brussels as capital, and seat of the European Union Parliament, headquarters of NATO. is an important player in European politics.

Belgium, famous the world over for its waffles,chocolates and pralines, the Godiva and Guylian brands, and the Trappist beer rated as the world's best, is a small country wedged between the Netherlands to the north, and France to the south; covers an area of 30,528 sq kl ms. with the Dutch speaking northern region of Flanders and the southern French speaking region of Wallons.

Although Begium became an independent sovereign state in 1830, breaking away from the Netherlands, it has a very long history; first occupied by the Belgei, a tribe from Central Europe, it became a Roman province and later a province of Charlemagne's empire, then part of the Netherlands, sharing its fortunes, until 1830, when the southern provinces seceded and became an independent country, Belgium. In 1831, Belgium chose Leopold I as king.

Although this gives an impression of the royals of Belgium as new on the scene, this is not true; Leopold descends from a long line of German princes of the House of Saxe- Coburg Gotha.

But like the Wettins of Great Britain (George V, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II) who changed their family name to Windsor to be seen to severe German links, the Belgian royals changed their family name to de Belgie.

Leopold I had a very interesting life, born in Bavaria, Germany, his father Duke Francois of Saxe Coburg Saalfeld, Leopold has served in the Russian army of the Czar, rising to the rank of General, then later acquired British citizenship (!!!) and rose to the rank of Field Marshall, and in 1831 accepted the Crown of the new kingdom of Belgium.

The present Monarch Albert II, brother of the previous Monarch King Baudouin, served, before his becoming king in 1993, as Honorary President of the Board of Directors of the Belgian Foreign Trade Office, a position he held for 31 years, helping to boost Belgian foreign trade. He was also President of the Belgian Red Cross. In 1969 he became member of the Council of Europe with the Presidency of the European Ministerial Conference. As Prince he was active in town planning, housing, nature conservation and protection of the environment.

In 1959, the King, then prince, married Donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria, from an Italian royal house.

Queen Paola, who had a classical education in Rome, in Latin and Greek, assists the King in his royal duties and takes active interest in the Queen's Charities, set up by her for helping people in financial crisis. She has also founded the Queen Paola Foundation, that help young people in education and the professions. She is Honorary President of Child Focus (www.childfocus.org), the charity which searches for children who have disappeared, combats sexual abuse and deals with other problems facing children.

Crown Prince Phillipe is a trained fighter pilot and paratrooper, and holds the rank of Major General. He is a graduate of Trinity College, Oxford, and completed his Masters in Political Science from Stanford University. Since 1993, he serves as Honorary Chairman of the Belgian Foreign Trade Board, and in this capacity has visited over 30 countries!

His wife, Princess Mathilde, daughter of Count and Countess Patrick d'Udekem d'Acoz, is a trained speech therapist, and holds a Diploma in Psychology. She is patron of and takes active interest in the welfare and rehabilitation of vulnerable persons. As member of the Belgian delegation of United Nations Conference on Children's Rights, and following the invitation by UNICEF and the Belgian agency for development cooperation, she presided over humanitarian missions to Niger and Mali, emphasising children's rights, health, female empowerment, poverty eradication.

The Belgian monarchy does not follow the usual tradition where a new Monarch, the heir, ascends to the throne on the death or abdication of his/her predecessor, rather the monarch accedes to the throne after the official act of swearing an oath to the Belgian Constitution.

The wordings of the Oath seem very significant as the incoming monarch has to swear by the Constitution to "I swear to observe(should be "abide" in translation)/by the Constitution and the laws of the Belgian people, to maintain (uphold) national independence and the integrity of the territory/nation."

Significantly, the Begian king is styled 'King of the Belgians' not 'King of Begium' to signify he is a King of the people.

All acts of the Monarch, appointment or dismissal of ministers, constitutional functions such as assenting to a new law, etc, have to be countersigned by the concerned Minister.

Similar to all constitutional monarchies, the Monarch is Head of State, a symbol of the country, representing the country's aspirations and traditions, the first person, in most cases as per a written Constitution, representing the country's freedom and democratic values, its continuity and political, social, cultural and other aspirations; although seen a figurehead, this is only partly true, there is a two way communication between the Monarch and his people.
The enlightened Monarch sets the example of a national identity of the country, and its dignity as a sovereign nation.

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