Belgian lawmakers: rein in new king's powers
Belgian Crown Prince Philippe waves to the media upon arrival at a conference in Antwerp, Belgium, Thursday, July 4, 2013. Weighed down by the years, Belgium's King Albert announced Wednesday that he will hand the throne of his fractious kingdom to his son, Philippe, on the country's national holiday, July 21. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian lawmakers on Thursday seized on King Albert's decision to abdicate to call for his son and heir, Prince Philippe, to become a purely ceremonial monarch.
The king's Wednesday announcement that that he will step down on his country's national holiday, July 21, and hand the throne to his less popular son has fanned long-simmering debate in Belgium about reining in the few powers the king still wields.
"We now have momentum to adapt the monarchy to the 21st century," Jan Jambon of the nationalist New Flemish Alliance told Parliament during a special meeting to discuss the abdication. "Let's grab this chance with both hands."
The Belgian monarchy is already largely ceremonial, but plays a key role in nudging politicians to make compromises in post-election government formation talks. Under the constitution, the monarch must also give his royal assent to laws passed by Parliament and can grant amnesty to criminals.
Belgian King Albert II addresses the nation, during a television speech at the Royal Palace in Brussels, Wednesday, July 3, 2013. Belgian King Albert has unexpectedly announced that he will step down in favor of his son, Crown Prince Philippe. on July 21, 2013. The move had been rumored for weeks and will end nearly two decades of steady reign over a fractious kingdom, one which has been increasingly torn apart by political strife between northern Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking southern Wallonia. (AP Photo/Eric Lalmand, Pool)
Albert's reign has been marked by a growing rift between Belgium's French and Dutch-speaking camps. A Belgian breakup was averted in 2011 — after a political stalemate lasting 353 days — with a reform deal giving each side far-reaching self-rule powers.
Jambon, whose party wants a Flemish, Dutch-speaking republic, called the king's powers "feudal legacies" that should be scrapped.
The monarchy gets a warmer welcome in Wallonia, Belgium's French-speaking south, than in Dutch-speaking Flanders, Belgium's more populous and economically more powerful north. But even moderate Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists in Dutch-speaking Belgium are pushing for reforming the monarchy.