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11/12/2016

Belgium’s ‘kamikaze’ coalition strikes government deal

Elections

Belgium’s ‘kamikaze’ coalition strikes government deal

Charles Michel, Belgian prime minister.

[Reuters]

Charles Michel, a French-speaking liberal politician who is the son of a former EU commissioner, was on course on Tuesday to become Belgium’s youngest prime minister after the future ruling coalition concluded marathon talks to settle the budget.

Michel, 38, could be sworn in as early as next week after the four centre-right parties seeking to form a government ended 28 hours of talks to determine how to achieve a balanced budget by 2018.

Michel will take over from fellow French speaker, Socialist Elio Di Rupo, and will be the first French-speaking liberal leader of the country since 1938.

“Charles Michel becomes prime minister,” tweeted fellow party member and budget minister Olivier Chastel.

Belgian elections were held in May, and it often takes months of detailed discussions before a government can take office.

However, with a deal on the budget, a government could be just days away, with future discussions centering on ministerial posts.

The future centre-right government, which includes the Flemish separatist N-VA party, wants to cut Belgium’s debt, currently among the highest in the eurozone, at about 100% of gross domestic product.

The four party coalition was dubbed ‘kamikaze’ by the Belgian media, because the French-speaking liberals of MR are the only party representing the francophone community.

The MR’s willingness to sit in a government dominated by the Flemish separatist N-VA is seen as politically suicidal in the French-speaking part of the country, where the socialists won the most votes.

The coalition is due to unveil budgetary plans on Wednesday. These are expected to include more spending cuts than tax hikes.

Earlier on Tuesday, the four centre-right parties agreed to raise the state pension age to 67 from 65, causing outrage among the Socialists and trade unions.

Background

Four parties have started negotiations to form the next coalition government in Belgium following a national election on 25 May.

The four parties include the Flemish separatist N-VA, the Flemish Christian-democrat CD&V, and the liberal parties on both sides of the country’s linguistic border - the Open VLD (Dutch-speaking) and the MR (French-speaking).

The four-party coalition was dubbed 'kamikaze' by the Belgian media because it includes only one French-speaking party, the liberal MR, which came second in Wallonia, the francophone part of Belgium. 

Wallonia is traditionally dominated by the socialist party, which came out first again in the May poll.