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Is the Royal Donation milking the taxpayer?

At least 7,530 hectares of forest and land as well as 77 buildings belong to the Royal Donation, a state body that groups land and buildings that the Belgian state places at the disposal of the Belgian royals. On paper, the Royal Donation, comparable with the Crown Estate in the UK, is an "independent public institution" that needs to be financially self-sustaining, but in reality many public bodies funded by the taxpayer bear most of the costs.

 

This became clear from "Royal Realty", the first investigation to look into  the Royal Donation in 90 years. The investigation was carried out by journalists working for VRT NWS, De Tijd, Apache and Knack.

According to a 26-page Royal Donation document, the many of the properties are located in Ostend, Brussels and the Ardennes. In total, they cover about 7,500 hectares, of which 5,000 hectares are forest and 1,650 hectares are arable land. The Donation also manages 77 buildings including 9 castles and 13 farms.

Many of these possessions are placed at the disposal of the king and his family. This is the case for the royal estate at Laken (City of Brussels), where King Filip lives, the villas used by Princess Astrid and Prince Laurent, his siblings as well as Belvedere Castle, where King Albert II lives. King Filip also has a second home in the Ardennes, Castle Ciergnon (photo below).

Taxpayer must foot the bill

Last year, the Royal Donation itself spent 6.45 million euros to maintain its huge heritage. Half of this amount (€ 2.91 million) went on the Laken estate, which, however, represents only 2% of the area of all property.

According to the journalists’ investigation, the royal family tries to get the taxpayer to pay most of the costs. Examples are numerous. The Belgian State has to pay rent to the Royal Donation for an office building in Brussels, while the Prime Minister must also pay an annual rent of 100,000 euros to rent the Castle of Hertoginnedal.

It also emerged from the investigation that the Royal Donation does not know the exact value of this patrimony, whereas the annual accounts consist of no more than six pages and few details.

"We are outside the scope of the federal budget," says Philippe Lens, Executive Director of the Donation. "And if public bodies bear the cost, it is because there is a good reason to do so: either there’s a rent agreement or it’s in the public interest".