Belgium lawmakers want to reduce royal family allowance
While the royal family still finds broad support in the country, many people agree that their government allowance should be reduced.
Citing a Profact agency study, AFP reported that "seventy percent of Belgians find that too much tax money goes to the royal family, and one-third want to get rid of the government allowance altogether."
The debate over whether or not the government should restrict the number of royal family members receiving a government allowance first arose in the senate ten years ago. However, reforms failed to pass without a political majority, and the debate died down.
One reason the issue has come up again, according to Christian Laporte, royal watcher for La Libre Belgique, is that the royal family keeps expanding.
"The debate was always present, of course, in the society, and there is also another important fact for tomorrow, and that fact is that there are now not just three princes, but twelve or thirteen," said Laporte.
This same concern has been echoed across Europe. Therefore, when public debate over royal financing was re-ignited in Belgium ten months ago, lawmakers decided to call-in constitutional experts from other European monarchies to help reach a compromise.
In the proposed law, all monarchs would be banned from receiving state cash and perks - except for the Monarch, his or her spouse, and heir to the throne. However, the changes would not go into effect until the end of King Albert's reign, which means all three of his children will still be entitled to government stipends for the rest of their lives.
Two years ago, King Albert's youngest son, Prince Laurent caused a stir when he was alleged to have used taxpayers' money to refurbish his villa. However, royal watcher Christian Laporte says that the prince was never convicted of the allegations in court.
"We couldn't say that Prince Laurent has problems, because he has not been condemned. He went alone to give testimony, and he went out of the court as free as when he came in - of course," said Laporte.
Flemish nationalists have been some of the most outspoken opponents of the monarchy - and as separatists - reject it as a symbol of Belgian unity. A couple of Flemish politicians have sparked controversy with their remarks on the royal family.
On his first day on the job, Flemish Parliamentary speaker Jan Peumans announced that he refused to attend any royal receptions.
"It's very simple," Peumans remarked. "I promised my father I wouldn't do things like this. If other people want to go – no problem – I would never accept a Belgian medal either. It's my right."
In addition to the 12 million euros per year in pay and benefits that the royal family reportedly receives, Flemish nationalist lawmaker Jan Jambon has claimed that they get another 16 million euros in hidden costs from other government budgets.
A republican movement was also founded by French-speaking Belgians, but it does not appear to have gained much momentum.
The draft bill to cap royal allowances by contrast has found broad bi-partisan support.
Author: Nina-Maria Potts (vj/AFP)
Editor: Neil King