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26th Feb 2024

Belgium hits world record for lack of government

  • In Brussels, streets are being named after the country's first interim government (Photo: EUobserver)

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — Belgium on Thursday (17 February) will mark 249 days of political deadlock, the current world record for a state to agree a new government. No deal appears likely to emerge anytime soon in the country which hosts the EU institutions, despite protests ranging from marches to no-sex boycotts.

Belgium equalled the world record held by Iraq, where divergences between the Sunni and Shia Muslim groups in 2010 were overcome after 249 days, leading to the formation of a government. But that perspective seems as far off as ever in Belgium where the king on Wednesday announced he is extending the mandate of his chief mediator by a further two weeks.

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Inconclusive parliamentary elections on 13 June last year caused a stand-off between French and Dutch-speaking parties, with the latter pushing for greater devolution of powers and less common funding between the two parts of the country, prompting fears of a split.

The deadlock has exasperated Belgians, who staged various forms of protests - from street marches to calls on politicians' wives to withhold sex until a government is formed. In the French-speaking town of Louvain-la-Neuve, French fries are set to be handed out for free on Thursday, in 'celebration' of the new world record, while the Flemish in Ghent will feature 249 protesters "dressed down to the bare essentials."

Meanwhile, an online initiative called Camping 16 has gathered over 150,000 people in a virtual 'camp site' asking political parties to pay back the public money they have received since June last year. "After all, why should we pay all these people all this money while they're refusing to do the job we asked them to do?" the mission statement reads.

The deadlock and various protests is seen as entertaining by foreign diplomats. "What I find somewhat amusing about this, is that the whole world is riveted to countries primarily in the Middle East where people are in the streets demanding that their governments leave, while in Belgium, we have people in the streets saying 'Just give us a government'," US ambassador to the EU William Kennard told journalists on Wednesday.

The situation did not impede the Belgian caretaker government to have a "smooth EU presidency" last year, because "Belgians are very experienced diplomats and they've done it before," the US envoy said.

But the longer it takes to form a government, the more problematic it could get from an economic point of view, Mr Kennard fears.

The cost of Belgium's sovereign debt - almost equal to its annual economic output - has risen in recent months and credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has said it will downgrade Belgium if it fails to form a government by June.

The caretaker government has pledged to pass a 2011 budget with a deficit tighter than the 4.1 percent of GDP currently projected. Finance ministry officials have said the budget might come into force in March.

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