King's speech riles Belgian separatists

Thu Dec 27, 2012 9:41am EST
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium's king has angered separatists and some constitutional experts by making what they saw as a veiled criticism of the main political party in the Dutch-speaking north.

King Albert II used his Christmas message to warn against "populist" political sentiment that rises during economic crises, drawing parallels with the pre-Nazi era in Europe when foreigners were made scapegoats for the problems.

"Such argument is common in many European countries today, also in ours. The crisis of the 1930s and the populist reactions that it caused must not be forgotten," the king said in a speech broadcast on Christmas Eve.

Carl Devos, politics professor at Ghent University, said the king - supposed to be a unifying force in a country sharply divided between the French-speaking south and the Flemish north - should not have made the comment which he said was a tacit reference to the separatist N-VA party.

"It's weird for the head of state to refer to the largest party of the country with a reference to the 1930s," Devos told Reuters.

The N-VA, which wants Dutch-speaking Flanders to split from Belgium, won the most seats in the 2010 federal election.

N-VA's leader, Bart De Wever, who is mayor of Flanders' biggest city, Antwerp, accused the king of being "divisive" and of favoring the French-speaking Socialists of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

"His Christmas message was an unhappy pinnacle," he wrote in an editorial De Standaard newspaper on Thursday.

De Wever said the king should draw his own lessons from the 1930s and the example of Albert's father Leopold III who surrendered to Germany in 1940, raising questions about his loyalty.   Continued...

Belgium's King Albert II poses as he delivers his traditional Christmas speech at the Royal Palace in Brussels December 24, 2012. REUTERS/Benoit Doppagne/Pool