Belgian King Albert II stepped down after almost 20 years on the throne, preparing for his son Philippe to take over as the steward of the economically and culturally divided nation.
Albert, 79, signed an act of abdication before an audience of 250 government officials at the royal palace in Brussels. Philippe, 53, will be sworn in as Belgium’s seventh king at 12:15 p.m. local time.
Albert urged the assembled guests to “work unremittingly for the cohesion of Belgium.” He said his son has “all the qualities of heart and intelligence to serve our country very well.”
Belgium’s kings play a more prominent role in political life than other European monarchs, as Albert demonstrated in helping break the record 541-day deadlock over the formation of a government after the 2010 elections. Today’s royal handover, on the annual national holiday, was designed to give the new king time to settle into his role before the next elections in May.