Belgian prince 'too reactionary to be king'

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The Independent Online

Belgium's King Albert celebrates his 10th anniversary on the throne this weekend with new controversy surrounding the royal household after criticism of his son and heir, Prince Philippe.

A book by three Flemish journalists has quoted unnamed politicians complaining that Philippe would be a reactionary and unsuitable successor to his father.

Criticism is nothing new for Philippe, 43, who, like his British counterpart, the Prince of Wales, has often found his long wait for the job of king an uncomfortable one.

Most of the attacks died away after his marriage to the glamorous and popular Princess Mathilde, who now has one child and is expecting a second. But the critics are back, and they have put their case in a book, Albert II: 10 Years as King, written by journalists from a Dutch-language television station, who interviewed a number of politicians and royal sources.

The work focuses on Philippe's scepticism towards demands for more autonomy for Flanders, and strains in his relationship with the Flemish Liberals, whose leader, Guy Verhofstadt, has just formed his second government. The book quotes one politician, assumed to be a Flemish Liberal, as saying: "Philippe has very strong religious and ethical beliefs. Everything is black and white. Someone like that can never become king, can they?" Another says: "We want to put a choice to Philippe. Either he changes radically or he steps aside."

Rumours have also resurfaced of a row between the King and the Prince, and there has been speculation that his younger sister, Astrid, might be an alternative monarch when King Albert steps down. King Albert, a former naval officer, took the reins after his solemn and religious brother Baudouin died leaving no children. Albert, by contrast, is a bon viveur.