Saturday

13th Apr 2024

Belgian coalition negotiations collapse

Six months down the line since its June election, the latest attempts to form a government in Belgium have collapsed.

On Saturday (1 December), Yves Leterme, Flemish Christian-Democrat and prime minister-designate, informed the King that he was stepping down from the post of official government talks negotiator after his final formation proposal failed to win support among all the parties.

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The day before, his proposal, which included the highly sensitive issue of devolution of powers to the regions, was rejected by his proposed coalition partners, the French-speaking Christian-Democrats.

Liberals on both sides of the language border did provide their support, as well as Mr Leterme's own group of Flemish Christian-Democrats and their separatist partner.

Belgium now has to wait on the King to decide who to appoint next to negotiate a government. But what the King can do to solve the deepening political crisis is much less clear.

He has already appointed four negotiators in the past six months, with Mr Leterme being appointed twice.

It is expected that he will first hold a round of consultations with a series of experienced politicians before making a decision.

Analysts agree that the agreement between the three parties can be used as a starting point to find a fourth partner that would replace the French-speaking Christian-Democrats.

But there is no consensus about which party this should be, nor on whether it would be any easier to convince another party than to persuade the French-speaking Christian-Democrats to give up their resistance to deep state reform.

Another opening is that Socialists on both side of the language border have made clear that they are now willing - under certain stringent conditions - to participate in the coalition talks.

The rising number of problems is also increasing the pressure on the negotiators, with the organisation of Belgian enterprises warning of damage both to the country's reputation and to its economy

It also remains to be seen whether the outgoing government of prime minister Guy Verhofstadt will have the right to sign the new European treaty in Lisbon later this month.

Another idea now being mooted is to hold new elections, but the Constitutional Court has already questioned whether this is possible, with certain issues concerning an electoral district around Brussels remaining open.

Long formation negotiations are fairly common in Belgium which is deeply divided along linguistic lines, but it has never taken so long to form a government.

Broadly, the Flemish side is pushing for more devolution of powers but the French-speaking side believes this is a bid to break up the country.

The current formation period is the longest in Belgian history, breaking the previous record of 148 days in early November.

But Belgium is still a month away from the European record, established in the Netherlands in 1977. It took the then Dutch Socialists and Christian-Democrats 208 days to form a government.

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