Belgium's government ruled out any increase Thursday in the 923,000-euro allowance paid to King Albert II since his July abdication, despite reports he sees it as too little to live on.

"The government is not going to change one comma" of the accord thrashed out earlier this year on annual payments to the royal family, Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo told parliament.

"The government has no intention, directly or indirectly, to change anything at all in this important reform," Di Rupo said as the story topped local news bulletins.

The prime minister, whom the king had singled out for praise in his abdication address, was responding to reports Albert II felt he had been short-changed.

The king "says he has not been treated as he had hoped and that he now finds himself in difficulty," one unnamed source told the Le Soir daily.

Up until his abdication after 20 years as king, Albert enjoyed a yearly tax-free allowance of 11.5 million euros ($15 million) to pay for the upkeep of the whole royal household.

But on stepping down in favour of his son Philippe, the popular monarch was handed 923,000 euros before tax -- or 700,000 euros net -- under the new payments regime.

Though also provided with a team of 10 aides, he is "complaining bitterly about the annual payment," said Le Soir's court correspondent.

Certain "associates", worried by his "poor morale and recriminations," are trying "to find a solution to increase his income indirectly," the daily said.

Several options were reportedly being considered -- the government might pay the costs of his official residence or the navy take over the running of his luxury yacht, said to be worth 4.6 million euros.

Other unnamed sources cited by Le Soir said Albert II had even taken his gripes to the government, including to Di Rupo, but that given its effort to stick to a tight budget there was no hope of change.

The monarchy is a key symbol of unity in a Belgium sharply divided between its Flemish north and French-speaking south but it is not immune to controversy or criticism, especially over its cost.

In June, the government made the royal household pay taxes for the first time ever after an outcry over former Queen Fabiola's decision to set up a private foundation at the age of 84 for her nephews and Catholic charities.

The move was widely criticised as a way of avoiding 70 percent death duties on her estate even though Fabiola receives a state allowance -- which was cut from 1.4 million euros to 923,000 euros, in keeping with the new guidelines.

Another skeleton in the royal cupboard concerns Albert II more personally -- Belgian sculptor Delphine Boel is seeking to win official recognition as his natural daughter.

As king, Albert II enjoyed legal immunity, but having abdicated he faces court action after Boel named him and her legal father Jacques Boel in a suit to establish her true paternity.

Her mother is Jacques Boel's former wife, Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps who, according to a 1999 book, had an affair with Albert in the 1960s before he became king.

 

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