Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

Belgian coalition talks collapse

  • The caretaker government is set to stay in place for now (Photo: EUobserver)

Talks on forming a new government in Belgium collapsed over the weekend leading a series of French-speaking politicians to raise the normally-taboo subject of a possible break-up of the country.

King Albert on Saturday (4 September) accepted the resignation of French-speaking Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo as lead negotiator after he failed to bring the seven-party talks to an agreement on reforming the state, a precondition for establishing a coalition government.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Mr Di Rupo is the second mediator to fail in the task since elections just under three months ago. Bart de Wever, the leader of the devolution-minded Flemish party, the N-VA, which won the 13 June poll resigned from the task in July.

The King has now appointed the Francophone speaker of the lower house of parliament, Andre Flahaut of the Socialist Party, and the speaker of the Senate, Danny Pieters of the N-VA to try to kickstart the negotiations again.

The discussions have focussed on three issues - the future of francophone suburbs in Brussels that lie within Dutch-speaking Flanders (the issue that caused the collapse of the last government in April), a new federal financing law and the refinancing of the nation's capital Brussels. This last matter is causing the most friction in recent weeks.

The issues go to the heart of relations between richer Dutch-speaking Flanders wanting more power for the communities and subsidy-dependent French-speaking Wallonia which fears devolution will see it lose out economically.

With talk on the breakup of the country normally the preserve of Flemish politicians, it is French-speaking politicians who this time have stolen the media march.

Francophone Socialist Laurette Onkelinx told La Derniere Heure: "Let's hope it doesn't come to that because if we split, it will be the weakest who will pay the heaviest price."

"On the other hand, we can no longer ignore that among a large part of the Flemish population, it's their wish. So yes, we have to get ready for the break-up of Belgium."

Philippe Moureaux, another leading Francophone socialist, said Belgium was on the verge of a "progressive organisation of separation" while Rudy Demotte, head of the Wallonia state government, told RTBF radio that "all options" are now open.

Tactics?

Flemish papers have suggested that the comments are more of a tactic as negotiations go to the wire, particularly over the revised financing of debt-ridden Brussels, with Flemish politicians calling for clearer commitments from the Francophones such as linking financial reform of Brussels with overall reform of the state.

De Standaard, a Flemish newspaper, quotes N-VA politician Phillipe Muyters as saying that if French-speaking politicians "take their responsibility" in negotiations then their position becomes much more difficult.

An unnamed Flemish politician is said by the newspaper to have referred the statements as "blatant bar talk" and likening the Francophones to a toddler bent on destroying what is before them because they have not got their way.

French-speaking politicians argue they have made great concessions to the wishes of the Flemish parties.

Meanwhile, according to Marc Eyskens, from the Flemish Christian Democrats CD&V, agreement is not far off.

"The splitting of Belgium, a country so intricate, is impossible. By contrast, the secession of Flanders is more probable, with the difficulties that that entails as much as with regards to Brussels, which Flanders would lose, as regards to the European Union, of which it would not be a member," he says.

Lengthy coalition negotiations are not new for Belgium. The last round took almost nine months. However, the negotiations are particularly under the microscope at the moment because Belgium is supposed to be running the day-to-day affairs of the European Union, as the rotating presidency country.

In addition, the country's perilous public debt level is also adding pressure. Its debt-to-annual output ratio is the third highest in Europe. The central bank has forecast that it will rise above 100 percent next year.

Coronavirus

EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer

The European Commission has announced targets to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination, and the intention of "a common approach" on possible vaccine certificates. Both topics will be discussed by EU leaders on Thursday.

EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex

MEPs are drumming up support for an inquiry into the EU's controversial border and coast guard agency, Frontex. So far, the Greens, the left-wing GUE, and Renew Europe are on board - amid expectations the centre-left S&D will also join.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit prompted finance exodus from UK to France
  2. Italian PM Conte wins confidence vote in Senate
  3. Borrell washes hands of EU's Venezuela policy
  4. Russia backs Greece in eastern Mediterranean dispute
  5. 'Ski-holiday' Switzerland reaches new infection high
  6. Germany extends lockdown, others expected to follow
  7. Barnier to be Brexit special adviser to von der Leyen
  8. EU commisioner to visit Bosnia's Lipa migrant camp

Turkey snubs Greece on migrant returnees

The Greek government last week requested that the European Commission and EU border agency Frontex help return 1,450 failed asylum seekers to Turkey. Turkey has refused, citing the pandemic.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  2. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  3. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference
  4. EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex
  5. Untapped potential of the single market could boost European recovery
  6. Biden's 'Age of Aquarius'? Mars and Venus will clash over China
  7. The new dimension of 'ever-closer union'
  8. What do new CDU chief's pro-Russia views mean for Europe?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us