2013 is the year of European monarchies. In March Pope Benedict XVI stepped down and was replaced by the Argentinean Francis I who instantly won the hearts of Catholics around the world with his humble appearance. A month later millions of people streamed to Amsterdam to witness the coronation of the new king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander. The prospect of gallons of beer in and around the canals might have been an additional incentive, but the last Queen's Day turned into a manifestation of the House of Orange-Nassau's popularity among the people. This weekend yet another royal succession took place. Prince Philippe succeeded his father Albert II, who had stepped down aged 79, to become the new King of the Belgians.
Most European monarchs have little more than a symbolic function, but that does not mean that they are irrelevant. In fact, none is more relevant than the King of the Belgians. Next to the army, the national football team, waffles, fries, and cycling, the Belgian monarchy is one of few thoroughly Belgian institution. This is of no little importance in a country whose biggest political party is prone to relegate the entire Belgian state to the pages of history books. During the more than 500 days of government formation that followed the last general election, King Albert II played an instrumental role in holding the country together. It has often been said that while many countries can chose whether they want to be a monarchy or a republic, Belgium cannot. It must be a monarchy or it will cease to exist.
Belgium is not the only country whose stability rests on royal foundations. Recent developments in the Arab world seem to affirm that monarchs enjoy a higher legitimacy from the people than other totalitarian rulers, even if they govern just as absolute and ruthless. While the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were falling like Domino pieces, the monarchs of Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were never in any real danger of following in Mubarak and Gaddafi's footsteps. From a rational point of view it seems archaic that rulers should be succeeded by their offspring, no matter which qualifications the new King or Queen brings to the table. And still, the dominant discourse among the majority of the population regards dynastical succession as legitimate. Why did it strike us as odd when Lukashenko of Belarus voiced his wish to be succeeded by his son when nobody seems to mind that a baby recently born in London is hailed as the heir to the British throne? Monarchies are not rational, nor are they judged with rational assumptions.
Monarchs are a bit like family members. If one lives in a monarchy, one grows up knowing the members of the dynasty and one learns to accept them with all their shortcomings just as we accept our siblings and forgive them again and again for their faults. And one thing is sure, Monarchs are constantly asking for forgiveness. "Sorry, the Nazi costume was inappropriate", "Perdona, I guess I shouldn't have shot that elephant", "Förlåt, I promise never to enter such an establishment again." Anderson spoke of nations as "imagined communities" and what could better define this concept than a naughty family member who everybody shares.
It is quite clear: Monarchs bring stability to fragile states because they are above daily politics, because they have legitimacy and because they enjoy a degree of patience and lenience from their subjects which is not granted to any elected politician. What follows from this assessment is that every fragile state should seek to instate a monarch. A hundred years after the end of the First World War it is time to bring the republican interregnum to an end.
Various European countries spring to mind that could greatly benefit from a benevolent monarch. How about Italy? Only reinstating a King might save poor Giorgio Napolitano from having to agree to yet another term in office. Germany is yet another candidate. Two presidential elections in one year because the incumbents were forced out of office for minor lapses should make the need for a monarch rather clear. Mind you, maybe the reconstruction of the old City Palace in Berlin is more than a coincidence. The most sensible people in Europe are, without a doubt, the Bulgarians. Suffering from the republican yoke they took drastic measures and elected their former King into the office of Prime Minister. Why wouldn't they go all the way?
Enough of that! Let us think bigger. There is one entity that could genuinely benefit from a monarch's glamour, entertainment, sense of belonging and, most of all, stability: the European Union. Never has there been so much to gain from such a little effort. Let us crown a King to make forgotten the continents inner contradiction. Who would care about deficits and unemployment rates if there is a royal wedding to celebrate, or even better, a royal baby to be born? And just think about this whole fuss about the democratic deficit. Nobody has ever asked the Queen about her democratic deficiencies or lack of charisma while poor Herman van Rompuy, famously compared to "a damp rag", seems to be answering those very questions every day. Europe needs a person whose mere presence can inspire unity between people who do not share anything else.
The evidence is clear; there is only one way forward. Vive l'Europe! Vive le roi!
Disclaimer: This article should not be taken all too seriously. Or maybe it should?