Business as usual for Belgium royal handover

Business as usual for Belgium royal handover
King Albert II of Belgium and Queen Paola of Belgium wave from the balcony during a visit of the Belgian Royal couple to Gent on July 17, 2013.

BRUSSELS - As Britons stand still for their royal baby, just across the Channel Belgium farewells a king and ushers in a new monarch to little fuss and fever.

The Windsors have not even had the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's over for tea during the two-decade reign of King Albert II - which ends Sunday when he abdicates in favour of his oldest son Philippe.

Though largely popular and well respected despite reports of royal infidelity and financial fiddling, the House of Belgium plays a low-profile game.

"I do think the Belgian monarchy is less glamorous," British specialist writer Hugo Vickers told AFP.

"Ah the royal baby," he added when asked about the contrast with the excitement around Kate's baby. "We get another generation in a very popular monarchy.

"We are also an island, so we are insular, and many British people would find it hard to name the European sovereigns. Awful to say but true."

Most Belgians know all about their royals, that Albert and Queen Paola's latest yacht - bought as the crisis kicked off in 2009 - cost 4.6 million euros (S$7.58 million), that they have a Riviera hideaway nearby those owned by Princess Di's brother and Richard Attenborough.

The family fortune has caused a bit of a scandal though not on the scale of reports some months ago that devout dowager queen Fabiola, 85-year-old widow of king Baudouin, was planning to move money from her royal allowance to relatives in Spain, thus avoiding death duties.

Baudouin died childless in 1993, forcing Albert, now 79, to step into the breach.

The fuss over Fabiola's trust fund accelerated moves to reform the state's ties with the monarchy.

Fabiola now will see her annual allowance cut to 450,000 euros from 1.3 million, while new king Philippe, who will be enthroned Sunday, will be the first monarch to have to pay taxes on his 11.5-million-euro allowance.

Such decisions in these times of crisis have provided fresh popular legitimacy to a monarchy that has none of the glitz or glamour of Britain's royal family.

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