Belgium welcomes new king

CNC report from Brussels
Added On July 22, 2013

Belgium has a new king.

Former Crown Prince Philippe was sworn in on Sunday, the country's national day, after his 79-year-old father Albert II abdicated the throne.

In his first speech as monarch, Philippe vows to strive for unity in a nation divided by language.


Philippe has taken the reigns as the king of Belgium, succeeding his father Albert II who signed away his rights on Sunday.

Big crowds of royalists and well-wishers cheered the royal family's every move in scorching heat.

STANDUP (ENGLISH): LIU CHANG, CNC correspondent
"During an emotional ceremony in the Royal Palace, Prince Philippe has taken the oath to become Belgium's seventh King in the country's three federal languages - Dutch, French and German before the parliament. However, many Belgians are still concerned about the political influence of the monarch with a new king to bring this divided country together."

53-year-old Philippe is a fighter pilot and parachutist with degrees from the world's top universities of Oxford and Stanford.

He has led dozens of trade missions boosting Belgian business around the world.

SOUNDBITE  (ENGLISH): BELGIAN CITIZEN
"I think he's quite experienced. He's started preparing it when he's 12 or 13 years old, so I think he knows exactly what's going on, politically, economically, because he travels a lot with economic missions. So it's a great job with a lot of experiences, it will only be more in the years to come. So I was a bit afraid in the beginning, like many people think, but I'm sure if everybody gives him the benefits of the doubts, I'm sure he will do a great job. That's for sure."

Though playing a largely a ceremonial role, the monarch serves as a unifying figure in the nation, increasingly divided between Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia.

In his first speech as king, Philippe vows to begin his reign with the "will to serve all Belgians".

He stresses the need for the country's leaders "to work tirelessly in favor of Belgium's cohesion".

SOUNDBITE  (ENGLISH): BELGIAN CITIZEN
"There are too many differences between all the parties in Belgium. It should be a war if there's no king in Belgium to get all the parties unified."

Philippe's father, Albert II, announced his abdication decision on July 3, citing "age and health" as the reasons for not continuing his duties.

In his farewell speech on Saturday, he again called for unity in the linguistically divided nation.

SOUNDBITE (FRENCH) ALBERT II, King of Belgium
"I will end by a wish that is very precious to me as King and as father: Surround the future King Philippe, and the future Queen Mathilde, with your active collaboration and your support. They make an excellent couple at the service of our country and they enjoy my full confidence."

Many Dutch speakers seek greater autonomy for Flanders in the north and are wary of a monarchy seen to be rooted in the once powerful, but now poorer French-speaking Wallonia in the south.

The rift is so deep that it took more than 500 days to build a new ruling coalition after the last general election.

SOUNDBITE  (ENGLISH): BELGIAN CITIZEN
"The Albert II is a very good king, he did all what he could do for Belgium, to get Belgium united. The most difficult thing in Belgium is to get the country united, because between Flemish and Walloons."

SOUNDBITE  (ENGLISH): BELGIAN CITIZEN
"I think the most difficult part for Albert is to just keep our country together, and he did a very good job. The problem now is that, with the new king we will see what it will bring, but I think it could also be the start of something new in Belgium......And I hope certainly it will be a new start for the country, and we don't have to quarrel all the time, to fight all the time, to unify and keep unified of our country, I think it's possible that it happens in a natural way, and maybe this new king could be a start of that. That's what I hope."

King Philippe is expected to face tough tasks in the coming months.

New general elections are set for June next year, and the biggest party in parliament, the N-VA New Flemish Alliance, is leading calls for even more autonomy for the language groups.