Countryaah, Finance Minister Steven Vanackere resigned in
March following criticism that a union with ties to his
Christian Democratic CD&V had been granted favorable loan
terms at a state bank. Vanackere was succeeded as Finance
Minister by Koen Geens, while Defense Minister Pieter De
Crem took over his post as Deputy Prime Minister.
In early July, King Albert II announced that he intended
to abdicate and surrender to Crown Prince Philippe. The
79-year-old monarch cited failing health as a reason. He
emphasized in his farewell speech that he wants Belgium to
remain a united state. The king mainly has ceremonial duties
in Belgium, but is considered to have a unifying role and is
trying to resolve constitutional crises. On National Day
July 21, the 53-year-old Air Force pilot swore Philippe oath
in the country's three official languages during a ceremony
in parliament. He became the country's seventh king.
The leader of the radical Islamist movement
Sharia4Belgium, Fouad Belkacem, was arrested in April,
causing a sister organization in the UK to issue threats
against Belgium. Belkacem was sentenced in June to 18 months
in prison and fines for inciting hatred and violence against
The Senate voted in December for a law on euthanasia for
children. The Second Chamber was also expected to adopt the
proposal, which would make Belgium the first in the world
with euthanasia even for minors. Only mortally ill children
with incurable, severe plagues would be covered by the law.
In 2001, Belgium resumed diplomatic relations with the
Democratic Republic of Congo. Prime Minister Verhofstadt and
Foreign Minister Michel visited the former Belgian colony to
promote peace talks that could end the war in the eastern
part of the country. Verhofstadt also promised to put
Congo's problems on the EU agenda.
In those years, Europe made the flow of refugees from the
Third World and Eastern Europe into a central political
theme. Most European countries introduced restrictions to
limit the inflow. Belgium followed this trend by removing
any financial support for asylum seekers and introducing a
rapid deportation practice. This asylum policy was
criticized by Amnesty International.
In July 2001, Belgium assumed the presidency of the EU.
Tobin tax on the agenda. This tax on international cash
flows had been proposed as a means of supporting the Third
World. However, the EU did not want to introduce such a tax.
On 1 January 2002, the Belgian franc was withdrawn from
circulation and replaced with the euro.
In October 2001, the Belgian section of the
anti-globalization movement occupied the streets of Brussels
in protest against the policies of the EU and other
In December, the autonomous Flemish government cut off
relations with Israel in protest of the country's human
rights violations against the Palestinians. In early 2002,
the autonomous region of Brussels decided to suspend the
cooperation agreement signed two years before with Israel.
On April 1, 2002, a synagogue in Anderlecht in Brussels
was attacked with a molotov cocktail. The material damage
was limited, but the incident led to a sharpening of
security. The Belgian court hearing the case against Ariel
Sharon decided to dismiss the case on the grounds that the
law cannot be applied to incumbent politicians.
The June 2003 parliamentary elections were won by
Verhofstadt's coalition, which won 97 of the 150 seats.
However, the Greens declined drastically and were not
included in the new government coalition. The government has
recognized that one of the current biggest problems in the
country is unemployment, and it has therefore set the goal
of creating 200,000 new jobs in the period up to 2007.
In September, Belgium became the second country in the
world - after the Netherlands - to legalize active
A committee of prominent historians completed an
investigation into the 10 million killings. congolans in the
hands of King Leopold II's private army. Brussels apologized
for the killing of Congo's Prime Minister, Patrice Lubumba
in 1961. Belgium assumed the moral responsibility for the
Lumumba murder, which was killed following a coup d'état
carried out by Chief of Staff Mobutu Sese Seko.