At least 7,530 hectares of forest and land, as well as 77 buildings, are in the Royal Trust fold, which is, on paper, an “independent public institution” that must be financially self-sustaining but, in reality, many public services (meaning, the taxpayer) bear the majority of the costs, according to a journalistic analysis to which VRT NWS, De Tijd, Apache and Knack journalists have contributed.
The Royal Trust stems from King Leopold II, who donated his properties, such as his lands, castles and buildings, to the Belgian nation, on the conditions that the properties would never be sold, they retained their function and appearance, and they would remain at the disposal of the successors to the Belgian throne.
In 2018, the Royal Trust itself spent €6.45 million to maintain its massive inheritance. Half of that (€2.91 million) was spent on the Royal Estate at Laeken, which however accounts for only 2% of the properties.
The Royal Family is attempting to place the burden of as many costs as possible on the taxpayers’ shoulders, according to several sources. The Belgian state pays rent to the Royal Trust for an office block in Brussels and the Prime Minister must also pay an annual rent of €100,000 to lease Val Duchesse castle.
The Trust does not in any case know the precise value of this heritage, while the yearly accounts are limited to six pages and few details, according to the analysis.
However, the Trust’s annual accounts have been systematically in balance since 2011, according to Philippe Lens, the director-general of the Trust, in a reaction to the analysis. “Recently, we received another audit report from the Court of Audit without any comments,” he added, reports VRT NWS.
The majority of the costs goes to places used by the Royal Family, like the Royal Estate in Laeken and their country residence in the Estate of Ardenne “because castles, monumental greenhouses and other parts of Royal Estates have great patrimonial and historical value, it is logical that their maintenance takes up more financial resources than is the case for other properties,” said Lens.
“The assertion that most of the costs go into places used by the Royal Family is unfounded. Our annual accounts clearly show that personnel costs represent around 70% of our operating budget,” he added.