Sunday

25th Feb 2024

Belgian government coalition talks collapse

Five weeks of negotiation on forming a centre-right government in Belgium have collapsed in failure with rival French- and Dutch-speaking regions unable to agree on a division of power.

The prime minister designate, Yves Leterme, on Thursday (23 August) resigned his mandate for forming a government after all-night negotiations failed to break the continuing deadlock between the two sides.

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He said he found it "impossible to successfully draft an ambitious government programme as requested by voters."

King Albert II, who returned early from holidays to deal with the crisis, accepted the resignation.

"Mr Leterme asked to be discharged of his mission [to form] a government. The king accepted his request" a statement by the palace said.

Mr Leterme, a Flemish politician, had been trying to form a government since mid July after the Christian Democrats and Liberals gained the most votes in the 10 June elections.

Fears of devolution

However, Flemish demands for more regional powers in areas such as justice and transport fuelled fears among French-speaking politicians that Mr Leterme was interested in breaking up the country.

Past comments by Mr Leterme that Belgium is an "accident of history" and that the only things Belgians have in common are "the King, the football team, some beers" lent to this fear.

For their part, Dutch speakers are keen to preserve their sense of identity and have been wary of francophone Belgians moving to the Flemish surroundings of Brussels, asking for local community rights.

This was another sticking point in the talks.

The mounting tension of the last days led the four parties in the talks - the Christian Democrats and Liberals from Flanders and Wallonia - to throw in the towel on Thursday.

After the collapse of the talks, Bart de Wever, leader of the New Alliance Party said the francophone politicians had said no to the Flemish side's suggestions on devolution of power in a "very insulting, very arrogant manner."

The resignation of Mr Leterme as prime minister-in-waiting may have given fuel to those calling for Flanders to secede from the rest of Belgium.

This weekend a large demonstration by Flemish separatists is planned. This follows a 5000-strong demonstration in West Flanders last weekend.

Virtually everything in Belgium – with a population of 10.4 million – is divided on the basis of language. The small country has three regions – the richer Flanders in the North and the poorer French-speaking Wallonia.

Brussels, the capital and third region, is officially bilingual - it is also home to the European Union institutions.

Around 6.5 million Belgians speak Flemish, compared to around 3.5 million that speak French. There is also a tiny German-speaking minority.

Belgian media is now speculating on whether the King will call new elections or appoint a new mediator to oversee the talks.

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