This has been an interesting year for monarchy in Europe. We saw a few months ago the abdication of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands in favour of her son. With her abdication, she is now once again Princess Beatrix. A few weeks ago, King Albert II of The Belgians announced that he too would abdicate.
Belgium as an independent state is a relatively new phenomenon. In the 1830 Belgian Revolution, the Catholic southern provinces of Belgium separated from the Kingdom of The Netherlands. The Dutch speakers and the French speakers were a unique alliance. Unfortunately, the politics of language remains very controversial in Belgium. There are three official languages, Dutch (also known as Flemish), French, and German. Towards the latter end of the 20th century, conflicts between the Dutch and French speakers became very common. The oldest university in the country, the Catholic University of Louvain, founded in 1425, split in the 1960s with the Dutch speakers remaining in the historic buildings and the French speakers establishing a new university in the nearby town of Louvain-la-Neuve. The Dutch speaking university is now known as the Katholieke Universitiet te Leuven. Leuven is the Dutch name for Louvain.
All government business, at least at the national level, can be conducted in three different languages. The Constitution is in Dutch, French, and German as are all laws. The bickering between the language groups is so bitter that Belgium recently went for a long period without a government. The parties were simply unable to agree as to their representation.
Only Britain goes in for all the pageantry of a coronation. In most other European countries, the inauguration of a new monarch is much more restrained affair. Following the death of Francisco Franco in Spain, King Juan Carlos I was sworn in as king at the parliament. The royal crown and sceptre were placed on a credence table near him, but he was not crowned. A similar procedure happens in The Netherlands, though the new king or queen wears a long ermine cape. There’s nothing on the Continent to equal the splendour of the State Opening of Parliament in Britain much less a British Coronation. In Belgium, not even a crown or a sceptre is in evidence.
Because of the unique polyglot nature of Belgium, the king takes his oath in three languages, first Dutch, then French, and then in German. He says, “I swear to uphold the Constitution and laws of the Belgian people, to maintain national independence and the integrity of its territory.”