Monday

30th Mar 2020

Belgium catapulted into fresh uncertainty as PM resigns

  • The king has yet to accept the resignation of Belgian PM, Yves Leterme (pictured) (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Belgian politics were once again hurled into chaos on Thursday (22 April) after the Flemish Liberal party (Open VLD) - a key member of the ruling coalition - decided to pull out of the five-month-old government. .

Prime Minister Yves Leterme subsequently tendered his resignation to the country's head of state, King Albert II, around 1:30pm. "There was no other choice but for the government to resign," finance minister Didier Reynders told reporters.

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Open VLD quit the coalition saying it was frustrated by the government's failure to solve the dispute between the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking communities in suburbs around Brussels.

The eventual outcome of the country's latest bout of political paralysis remains in doubt, with talks between Mr Leterme, the king and various political factions currently ongoing. A compromise solution to restore the coalition, the emergence of a new prime minister, or national elections are all possibilities.

A palace statement said the king is "reserving his decision" on whether to accept Mr Leterme's resignation.

The timing is also bad, with the developments placing a question mark over Belgium's capacity to successfully carry out its term at the helm of the EU's rotating six-month presidency, set to start on the 1 July.

"It is too early to draw any conclusions," Jesús Carmona, deputy spokesperson of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told EUobserver.

Despite the creation of a permanent council president under the EU's Lisbon Treaty, the bloc's rotating system continues to operate in a scaled-down fashion, with countries holding the title still charged with organising and chairing a huge number of meetings central to the smooth operation of the union.

A vote of no confidence toppled the Czech government in March 2009 during the country's tenure of the EU presidency, bringing with it a wave of confusion. A caretaker government was subsequently installed.

"A political crisis in the current circumstances would be inopportune and would greatly damage the economic and social welfare of citizens, as well as Belgium's role on the European scene," King Albert II said in his statement on Thursday afternoon, adding that Mr Leterme agreed with him.

Language disputes

The fractious nature of Belgian politics was increasingly drawn to the world's attention in 2007 when the country, home to the bulk of the EU's institutions, took nine months to form a government after elections.

Squabbles between the country's French and Dutch-speaking politicians are prone to boiling over, with Mr Leterme's visit to the king on Thursday marking his fifth attempt at resignation over his political career.

The latest dispute centres on a long-running language stand-off between francophone and Dutch-speaking communities on the outskirts of Brussels. A controversial law to redraw a constituency boundary in the area would have a negative impact on the French-speaking minority, say francophone politicians.

Reactions were varied, although many Belgian citizens were rather sanguine about the latest development. "This is a never-ending story. They will keep on arguing for ever. And one thing you can be sure of, the politicians will always get paid," said Judith, a 50-year-old Flemish nurse.

Markets and the Burka

The fresh instability looked set to delay a Belgian parliamentary vote due to take place on Thursday on a total ban of the Islamic burqa in public places and other types of veil in the country. If passed it would have been the first parliament in the world to impose a national ban on the dress.

Analysts were also assessing the financial implications of the latest fall-out, with markets currently ravaging the bond markets of several southern European states.

"It will have only a minor impact on the bond market, perhaps a few basis points," Carsten Brzeski, senior economist with Dutch bank ING, told this website. "Markets are now used to Belgium not having a government. If it was Greece it would be a different question," he added.

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