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“Philippe is well prepared to succeed me” - Albert
As predicted, King Albert yesterday announced that he would abdicate in favour of his son Philippe on July 21. "It's with emotion that I address every one of you today," he said in a broadcast. "I'm in my 80th year, an age never before reached by my predecessors (...) my age and health no longer permit me to exercise my functions as I would wish to (…) Prince Philippe is well prepared to succeed me; he and Princess Mathilde have my every confidence," he said. "It's with serenity and confidence that I share this decision."
Philippe, destined to become the nation's seventh sovereign later this month, will face a tough challenge - to keep the divided country together. In his two decades at the helm of the small country, Albert II's most delicate task was to bridge the growing divide between Flanders and Wallonia. Born in Brussels on April 15, 1960, the 53-year-old eldest son of Albert II and of Queen Paola has been heir to the throne ever since the death in 1993 of his uncle and mentor King Baudouin, Albert's older brother. In 1999, aged 39, Philippe married Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz. Together they have four children including Princess Elisabeth who was born in 2001 and who is in line to be Belgium's first female successor to the throne.
He went on to military school, training as a fighter pilot and paratrooper before going on to Oxford and Stanford, but as a young man remained introverted and apparently ill at ease in public.
In 1993, when King Baudouin died childless at 62, it was expected 33-year-old Philippe, who was still single, would be crowned in his stead. But the political elite deemed him "not ready" and Albert stepped onto the throne. In the last two decades Philippe has continued to prepare to be king, gaining assurance and heading dozens of economic missions for Belgium across the globe.