Belgians are outraged over demands being made by their recently retired monarch, King Albert II, for more money beyond his yearly £770,000 ($1.24 million) allowance.
It seems the ex-king, who abdicated in July in favor of his son Philippe over his apparent poor health following a series of royal scandals, needs the extra dough to pay the high heating bills for his castle (Belvedere, on the outskirts of Brussels) and to buy fuel for his 27-metre (88.6-foot) luxury yacht, the ALPA, which he uses to sail the blue Mediterranean.
But the Belgian government, in the grip of a budget austerity drive and job cuts, is not in the mood to give in to his entreaties. Earlier in the year, the Brussels government had already reduced the payouts to the country’s various royal family members in the wake of tax irregularities among the blue-bloods.
Le Soir newspaper reported that an irate Albert is currently shuttling between his apartment in Rome and his two holiday homes in France, one in the Riviera town of Châteauneuf de Grasse and another home on Île Saint-Louis in the heart of Paris. Albert is also incensed with having to pay any taxes, claiming that the new VAT, excise and income tax laws for the royals eats away 200,000 euros of his now reduced salary. Albert reportedly went right to the prime minister and various government ministers with his demands.
"I and the government are very satisfied with the reform of the allowances and the financing of the monarchy," Premier Elio Di Rupo told MPs during a parliamentary debate. "The government does not intend, directly or indirectly, to change anything." Di Rupo, a Socialist from a poor immigrant background, was warmly praised by MPs for his refusal to provide further funding to the retired king.
European media reported that Albert, who is independently wealthy, actually lost annual allowances totaling some £9.6 million ($15.4 million), leading even him to belt-tightening. But that does not inspire any sympathy from his beleaguered fellow Belgians. "This is particularly shocking. He has a very generous endowment and is also a member of one of the richest families in our country," said Theo Francken, a Flemish nationalist MP, according to the Telegraph. "Can you imagine, three vacation homes -- one in Paris, one in Rome, and one on the French Riviera -- and you have to do the upkeep," complained Belgian lawmaker Jean-Marie Dedecker. "And now they put you on miserable pay of 923,000 euros. And you have to get there yourself without an army plane taking you there. How bad is that?"
The royal family in Belgium is one of the few institutions in the kingdom that seems to unite the French-speaking south with the Flemish north, although some Flemish nationalists would like to get rid of the monarchy entirely. The nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) and other parties are making political hay out of the ex-king’s demands. "During such a [financial] crisis, he gets three times more than U.S. President Obama," said Barbara Pas of the anti-monarchist, right-wing Flemish Interest Party.
Interestingly, the most famous monarch of them all, England’s Queen Elizabeth II, recently received a £5.1 million ($8.2 million) increase in the sovereign grant, which totaled £36.1 million ($58 million) for the year, The Independent reported.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.