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Honorary Doctorate from the University of Hasselt - Address of Her Majesty the Queen to the Eulogy Delivered by the Rector of the University of Hasselt

30 May 2023

Social Engagement for a More Humane World


Dear Rector,
Academic staff,
Dear students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The honorary doctorate that the University of Hasselt has awarded me today leaves me deeply moved. And the fact that I am receiving this honour for my social engagement gives it a very special dimension. It suggests that many people feel concerned; that this engagement does make a difference; that it has set things in motion. 

I would therefore like to share this great honour with all those who have given me their support  and their confidence, and all those with whom I have been able to talk. We have listened to each other, and we have looked for solutions together. 

My ultimate goal has always been to be open to others, to recognise their value, to give a face and a voice to those who are not visible or who do not have the opportunity to make themselves heard. It so happens that my position enables me to draw attention to the less apparent, but nonetheless very real needs in our society.  


Ladies and Gentlemen,

These days our society is increasingly volatile. Digitalisation is accelerating everything. Growing individualisation is undermining contact between people and putting the brakes on social engagement. 

The covid crisis has taught us that everyone reacts differently to social isolation, solitude and the considerable stress that most of us experience as a result. We have all had to demonstrate great resilience, in order to overcome our vulnerability and fragility both socially and economically. During this crisis solidarity grew. Suddenly, we saw a shift towards greater understanding, recognition, respect and mutual care. Social cohesion was strengthened. Our society returned to the path of ‘living together’, characterised by solidarity. Continuing along this path after the pandemic is a major challenge. 

The United Nations’ Agenda 2030 offers an answer to a variety of societal challenges. An agenda for universal sustainable development, it defines objectives for achieving a peaceful, healthy and secure life for current and future generations, while ensuring no one is left behind. It is crucial to involve young people in this inter-generational dialogue.

We are now halfway through the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, and the results vary from one goal to another and from one country to another. It is therefore important that states respond positively to the United Nations Secretary General’s appeal to give more impetus to change in our societies and thereby meet their people’s expectations.

In my capacity as an advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals, I strive to convey this message optimistically in my various activities. I want to see progress achieved, and I am determined to continue along the path we have mapped out.

It is only right, in my opinion, to point out the importance of voluntary work. It plays a vital role - in the care sector, education, sport, culture and welfare in general. Those who give of themselves on a voluntary basis deserve all our admiration. Not only is voluntary work rewarding for those who engage in it, it also, above all, helps strengthen social ties.

Since I was very young, I have always been interested in and curious about people. For a long time, I have been convinced that a society can only prosper if it focuses on the wellbeing of the people who constitute it. That is why, over recent years, I have worked hard to ensure that the issue of mental wellbeing receives the attention it requires. I continue to believe that good mental balance in each individual’s life is a strength that ultimately benefits society as a whole. I remain convinced, too, that societal challenges can be met through better understanding and respect for others. The feeling of being recognised strengthens both individuals and the society of which they are a part.

Obviously, this does not only apply to our country. Beyond our borders, as well, we must ensure that the integrity of each individual is respected. My field trips abroad have shown me the considerable capacity for resilience we all have. It is possible to overcome even tragic events, but only if the people concerned are not left to fend for themselves and receive direct support from those around them. What is crucial in these circumstances is to be recognised as an individual. The feeling of existing and the awareness that protection is possible: that is what it is all about. Human beings are strong, but not always able to cope alone.

Last year I visited Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The accounts of violence against the women in this unstable region, shocked me deeply. I was so moved by their stories that I was at a loss for words. But at the same time I was outraged. I promised these victims that I would speak up for them wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself. I will continue to defend them, to speak on their behalf, so that the international community does not waver.

I am grateful to the University of Hasselt for awarding me this honorary doctorate, which I want to dedicate to all the vulnerable people who have to struggle every day for a decent existence – or quite simply even to survive.

I hope that my pleas for a warmer society will continue to be heard. And, above all, I hope that the younger generations currently being taught, at this university and elsewhere, will strive in future for a sustainable and ever more humane world.