In these times of financial crisis, the question gripping Belgium is whether €923,000 ($1.2 million) a year is enough to make a retired king happy.
Belgium’s King Albert II stepped down last summer, and saw his annual public funding slashed from €11.5 million ($15.4 million). Newspapers said on Thursday the 79-year-old former monarch sent out feelers for more taxpayer money to meet his bills, and the government was quick to refuse.
Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, a red-blooded socialist of poor immigrant background, told Parliament that “the government does not intend to change a comma” in the royal stipend plan, eliciting warm applause from government parties and opposition alike.
Belgium’s royal family has been involved in several financial scandals and its standing in money issues has been undermined. Though royal matters were once treated with solemnity in Parliament, Thursday’s session had a sense of Barnum about it, as one legislator after another argued against any increase.
Many of the objections relayed in Parliament had their roots in the difficult economic conditions in Belgium. Though the country has escaped the brunt of the European debt crisis, the government has had to take its own tough austerity measures . And that makes for little sympathy for a wealthy royal.
“During such a crisis, he gets three times more than President Obama,” said Barbara Pas of the anti-monarchy Flemish Interest Party. (In fact, the U.S. president is paid $400,000 a year.)
Albert was succeeded as Belgium’s king by his son Philippe on July 21. — AP