Friday

24th May 2019

Belgium breaks own government formation record

Belgium has set a new national record for the longest period without a new government as parties are still trying to bridge their opposing views on state reforms five months after elections.

On Tuesday (6 November), 149 days have passed since the election, one day more than the previous record set in 1988.

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Long formation negotiations are fairly common in Belgium which is deeply divided along linguistic lines.

The richer Dutch speaking Flanders is located in the north. Wallonia, located in the south of the country, is poorer and French-speaking. Brussels, the capital and located in Flanders, is officially bilingual but mainly French-speaking.

After five months, four negotiation rounds, and several consultations by the king, all hopes are again pinned on prime minister-designate Yves Leterme of the Flemish Christian-Democrats to form a government.

But fears are growing that Mr Leterme, an unpopular figure in the southern part of the country, is not up to the task.

Although Christian-Democratic and Liberal parties on both sides of the language border have under his mandate succeeded in concluding several partial agreements – on justice and immigration for example – an overall agreement is still not certain as three vital issues remain to be solved.

First, there is the sensitive issue of the electoral district of Brussels and its neighbouring Flemish municipalities.

Flemish parties are demanding a split of the district without compensation to the French-speaking minority living in the Flemish periphery around Brussels.

As a result, this minority will lose its ability to vote for politicians from the largely francophone Brussels, meaning the move is strongly opposed by French-speakers.

Secondly, the question on the extent of the devolution of powers has yet to be answered. While Flemish parties want more power for the regions, francophone parties fear that this a cover for gradually breaking up the country.

Thirdly, it is considered unlikely that there is enough money to implement all the partial agreements, making a re-negotiation of several of these deals necessary.

Ultimatum

The clock is ticking however, as more and more problems are arising from not having a government.

The outgoing government may only address current affairs and are prohibited from making important decisions.

For example, it is unclear whether Belgium will be able to sign the latest EU treaty in December in Lisbon if no new government had been set up by then.

Flemish parties, increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress on state reform topics, have also issued an ultimatum, flaring up the tensions between the two sides on the negotiating table.

They have warned that if there are no clear signs that French-speaking parties are willing to push through an extensive state reform by Wednesday (7 November), they will use their numerical superiority in parliament to unilaterally secede the controversial electoral district around Brussels.

"We're are at a point that we will have to vote. I don't see another perspective," Flemish Christian-Democrat Eric Van Rompuy said, according to Belgian daily De Morgen.

French-speaking parties have already made clear that they would break off negotiations if such a decision was imposed upon them.

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.

Belgium votes for new leader

Belgium will get a new prime minister after the conservatives - led by the Christian Democrats - defeated the socialist-liberal coalition in a move that will see the end of Guy Verhofstadt's eight-year term in office.

Belgium still struggling to form government

Three months on from elections, Belgium is still struggling to form a new government, as Flemish and French-speaking parties remain at odds about the need for far-reaching state reforms – including the highly sensitive issue of devolution.

Belgium forms interim government

Exactly 192 days since the June election, Belgian political parties have finally succeeded in forming a new government, albeit only a temporary one.

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