This is what happened yesterday afternoon during the life coverage of the Tour de France! I didn’t see it myself, because I was at the office. But I read about it on the internet later that evening.
So I’m interrupting my Loire Valley series to bring you some big local news; news blog reader and regular commenter Carolyn* in the US had already heard or read.
The reason for yesterday’s life coverage interruption was to announce that at 6 p.m. there would be a special broadcast during which our King Albert II would address the nation. Lately there had been some speculations about whether or when the king, who turns 80 this year, would abdicate in favour of his eldest son Filip/Philippe, who’s married to the lovely Princess Mathilde. The couple has four children, two girls and two boys. The eldest, Elisabeth, is ten years old, and may one day become our first female sovereign.
Albert became king in 1993, after the sudden death of his brother Baudouin. Although he originally wasn’t destined to be king, he did a fabulous job! He’s a warm-hearted, intelligent, relaxed and easy-going man with an enormous sense of humour who laughs easily. We will miss him.
Filip, our king to be (l)
and Albert II, our present and almost former king (r).Photo: www.gva.be
The reasons for his abdication, a first in the history of Belgium, are his age, his failing health and – probably – a family scandal that was brought in the open some ten years ago, but which has taken a very nasty turn recently. It is believed that the king has an illegitimate daughter from an affair he had decades ago while he was still Prince de Liége. About a month ago this ‘daughter’ has started a legal procedure to force the king and his eldest son and daughter to take a DNA test which should proof that she really is his daughter.
Most people tend to think that this new ordeal has accelerated the king’s decision to abdicate earlier than expected. I for one understand Albert’s decision. He has done a great job over the last 20 years and he has won the hearts of many. He must be very tired and the strain and stress of ‘ruling’ a difficult country like Belgium, with its two communities, which are almost constantly on each other’s back, have probably worn him out. He has worked beyond the call of duty and is certainly entitled to a well-deserved and hopefully long retirement.
He and his wife Paola like spending time in France (now why would that be?). They have a villa and a yacht in Southern France, and you can bet on it that from now on they will be living there for the best part of the year.
I hope that this change at the top will not mean the end of Belgium. There are some fearsome separatists and republicans out there who can’t wait to split up the country and elect a president. They may gather that this is the right time to do it. I’m not saying it will happen overnight, especially as the monarchy and the unity of the country still have the support of the majority of the population. Anyway, I hope I won’t live the day to see this happen. And if it were to happen in my lifetime, there is not a fraction of doubt in my mind of what I will do: pack up and move to France … and my beloved Loire Valley …
(*) Note to Carolyn: I did receive your comment via the to the comment box linked email, but for some odd reason it does not appear on the blog!