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The symbolic role of the King

The King’s political role, when viewed in the widest sense of the terms, constitutes one of the two principal facets of the monarchic function. The second consists of what has been called the symbolic and representative function. It pertains to the social dimension of the monarchy, as distinct from its political mission.

It is an aspect which is difficult to describe, because it is an area where the rational and the emotional intermingle.

Representative of the nation

The King represents and embodies not the State, which is the apparatus of power, but the Nation, which some may prefer to call the Country. It is in this capacity that he travels abroad on visits of courtesy or friendship and to foster a good image of Belgium. The bearing and positive results of these visits depend both on the impression which the sovereigns create and on the actual state of relations between the two states concerned : in this respect the representative and political (or diplomatic) areas intermingle.

It is also as the representative of the nation that the King, aided by the Queen, travels throughout the country on a wide variety of visits. He does so in order to gather information and to stimulate and encourage the social, economic and cultural development of the many microcosms to be found in any country. He also does so to express not only his own personal interest but also the interest or gratitude of the whole of the community to individuals or achievements that deserve to be highlighted or honoured.

These activities and gestures privilege their recipients. Few remain indifferent to such honours.

In Belgium, the monarchy fits into the legal and rational constitutional framework, but at the same time it carries an emotional message that derives from its ancient origins and its continuity.

The resources put at the King's disposal

In order to fulfil his function, the King may naturally rely on the support of the whole of the country’s governmental and administrative apparatus. In addition, it is accepted that, since a monarchy has been set up, the King must be allowed to dispose freely of personal assistants and material resources. The Constitution therefore makes provision for a Civil List, i.e. not a salary but an institutional budget enabling the King to pay his assistants, to maintain the royal residences, to run his offices, to finance his personal expenditure and to provide representation and hospitality.

It was also this context that led to the creation of the King’s Household. This consists of four entities which group together the King’s assistants : the department of the Grand Marshal (representational activities), the King’s Cabinet (politics, administration, public relations), the Military Household (relations with the armed forces and the Minister for Defence) and the Civil List department (finance and management of the Household).