Belgians shouted, “Long live the king” Sunday to welcome their new monarch to the throne on a sunny national holiday. But several legislators from northern Flanders boycotted King Philippe I’s coronation, highlighting longstanding feuding between the nation’s Dutch-speaking Flemings and Francophones — the biggest challenge the new monarch will face.
In his first speech as king shortly after his father, King Albert II, abdicated, Philippe made no attempt to paper over those cracks, instead casting the country’s division between its 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and 4.5 million Francophones as one of its strengths.
“The wealth of our nation and our institutions consists in turning our diversity into a strength,” he said after taking his oath of office at the country’s parliament.
The ceremony capped a day of transition which started when Philippe’s father, the 79-year-old Albert, signed away his rights as the kingdom’s largely ceremonial ruler at the royal palace in the presence of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who holds the political power in this 183-year-old parliamentary democracy.
Less than two hours later, the nation got its seventh king when Philippe, 53, pledged to abide by Belgium’s laws and constitution.
President Barack Obama sent the new king congratulations.
“The president also sends his heartfelt appreciation to King Albert II for his warmth, service, and leadership as he steps down after nearly 20 years,” the U.S. government statement said. “Belgium is a valued friend of the United States, and the president looks forward to continuing to deepen this bond in the years to come.”
Albert announced his abdication plans less than three weeks ago, so there was little time to turn the occasion into a huge international event. No foreign royals were at the ceremony. Since the royal transition coincides with Belgium’s National Day celebrations, a military parade had already been planned.