By Carol Williams Los Angeles Times
With four lavish homes and a fuel-guzzling yacht to maintain, retired Belgian King Albert II is reportedly finding it difficult to get by on his royal pension of $1.2 million a year.
Granted, he took a big pay cut when he abdicated in July, passing along the $15 million-plus stipend for the ruling monarch to his son and successor, Philippe.
But times are tough in the kingdom, and Albert’s back-channel approaches to the government for a bigger allowance have been spurned, the newspapers Le Soir and De Standaard reported Thursday.
French-language Le Soir cited unidentified sources as saying the former monarch would like the state to cover the upkeep on his main residence, Belvedere Castle, north of Brussels. It also said the king’s intermediaries had floated the idea of government funds for his yacht, or to have the Royal Navy take over its crewing, fueling and repairs.
On the floor of parliament, news of the 79-year-old royal’s plight was met with mockery and derision by representatives of Belgians struggling with nearly 8 percent unemployment and a $17 billion budget deficit.
“During such a crisis, he gets three times more than President Obama,” said Barbara Pas of the anti-monarchy Flemish Interest Party, according to an account of the parliamentary discussion by the Associated Press.
“Can you imagine? Three vacation homes — one in Paris, one in Rome, and one on the French Riviera — and you have to do the upkeep,” independent lawmaker Jean-Marie Dedecker said with feigned horror. “And you have to get there yourself without an army plane taking you there. How bad is that, prime minister?”
Socialist Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo was apparently unmoved. He was quoted by news media as vowing that “the government does not intend to change a comma” of the royal compensation program.
Politicians of the Flemish nationalist N-VA Party, which is reportedly poised to become the largest political force in Belgium after elections next year, expressed disbelief that the former king didn’t have the means to cover his living expenses.
“These are things he has to pay himself, like you and me. I can’t imagine he has no savings,” said the anti-monarchy party’s Pol Van Den Driessche. “I don’t think the king will have to eat a sandwich less (without a pension raise).”
The royal house has fallen in the esteem of many Belgians in the midst of the Eurozone economic crisis, a bitter divide between the French- and Dutch-speaking communities and several scandalous efforts inside the court to avoid paying taxes.
In June, the Belgian government revised the royal household finances to make the annual grants taxable. Royal-watching media the world over attributed the move to the controversy stirred last year by 85-year-old Queen Fabiola, Albert’s sister-in-law, who set up a private foundation to shield her estate from the country’s 70 percent inheritance tax.