In the political field, the King’s function does not entail the exercising of personal authority. It is by suggesting, advising, warning and encouraging that the King brings this action to bear on political protagonists. His perspective is one of continuity of duration, of long-term objectives, and of "grand designs" for the country and the State.
It is through dialogue with all those who take part in political decisionmaking that the political activities of King are performed. In a country such as Belgium, this involves not only Parliament and the government, but also all the bodies which lead to decisions. This is why the King sees representatives not only from the world of politics, but from all those with an influence in the country at economic, social, academic, cultural and sport level. At the same time, these meetings, the content of which remains confidential, represent a valuable source of information for the King and enable him to bring his influence to bear.
The importance and impact of the King’s political action varies according to circumstances and according to the pace of public life. There are times when the role of the King can be seen more clearly, particularly after elections when he chooses an informator, then a formator for the government.
Article 91 of the Constitution states that the King may only accede to the throne after solemnly taking the following oath before the two Houses of Parliament : "I swear to observe the Constitution and the laws of the Belgian people, to preserve national independence and the integrity of the territory."
What is the exact meaning and significance of this oath ? First of all, as stated in the Constitution, it represents a solemn personal commitment. The specific mention of national inde-pendence and of the integrity of the territory was probably inspired by circumstances existing at the time that the Constitution was drafted, a time when Belgium had just taken shape as a sovereign state whose borders were being contested. Belgian kings have always regarded these two points as one of their special obligations.
The King combines these political functions with a number of others.
Firstly, he is the commander of the armed forces. In the course of contemporary Belgian history, the interpretation of this text has aroused controversy and even conflict between some of the country’s sovereigns and their governments. This has centred on the question of whether, in time of war, the King’s military role is subject to ministerial responsibility. Today the question does not arise in practice, since the bulk of Belgium’s armed forces would under those circumstances come under the integrated command of N.A.T.O.
Even so, the King’s military role has not lost all meaning. It is still one of his chief duties to ensure that the armed forces are properly maintained, and also to remind the political world and the public opinion of Belgium’s national and international obligations in the field of defence.
An entirely different facet of the King’s role consists of the work he does on a daily basis when mediating with ministers on behalf of private citizens who appeal to him to redress wrongs they have suffered at the hands of the political and administrative system.