Belgian coalition talks collapse, king asks for renewed effort

Elio Di Rupo picnik.jpg

The Belgian politician leading talks to form a new government tendered his resignation yesterday (29 August), but the king insisted that he stay on to avert a political crisis just two months after parliamentary elections.

French-speaking socialist leader Elio Di Rupo, whom King Albert had asked to pave the way for a new government, said in a statement that two parties from Dutch-speaking Flanders had been unwilling to continue negotiations.

After more than three hours of talks with the Belgian monarch, the palace said that Di Rupo had sought to be discharged, but the king had rejected this demand and asked him to continue his work.

"Mr. Di Rupo accepted," the palace said in a statement.

Di Rupo has been seeking to balance Flemish demands to gain more powers for Flanders and the concerns of French speakers, who fear their poorer region will suffer from devolution and that the process will eventually lead to Belgium breaking up.

Di Rupo is the second adviser to be appointed by the king. The head of Flemish separatist party N-VA, which won the most seats in the June election, abandoned his mission in July, saying there was not enough agreement on key issues.

Di Rupo said N-VA and the Flemish Christian Democrats were the parties that brought negotiations to an end.

A collapse of talks would have left Belgium in political turmoil. Di Rupo is widely tipped to become prime minister. There is no obvious alternative candidate and little sign that the parties can agree a coalition deal.

Belgium, whose national debt is as large as its annual output, can ill-afford political paralysis at a time when financial speculators are on the look-out for budgetary laggards.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yves Leterme has bought some time by passing a bill to reduce the budget deficit to 4.8% of gross domestic product this year, from a previous plan of 5.6%.

However, a new government should already be setting out plans for 2011 and beyond.

Di Rupo has said he plans to hold a news conference on Monday.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

N-VA, the Flemish nationalist party led by Bart De Wever, states on 29 August in a communiqué that it is "not ready to sign a blank cheque for Brussels without any guarantee for the Flemish".

N-VA further insists that a reform of the state without a so-called 'responsabilisation', or making the entities responsible for their new attributions, is unacceptable for the Flemish nationalists.

According to N-VA, if the French-speaking partners in the negotiations are ready to commit to redrafting laws on financing the state, which would include the financing of Brussels, the obstacle could be lifted.

CD&V, the Flemish centre-right party, also said it cannot accept the latest proposal by Elio Di Rupo.

"CD&V doesn't want a structural envelope of 500 million euros to be granted to Brussels, while the redrafting of the financing law and the way in which the next government will find 25 billion euros [for the financing of the federal entities] remain vague," a source from the Flemish party is quoted by RTBF as saying.

The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a nationalist party, secured a sweeping victory in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium in national elections held on 13 June, paving the way for more powers to be delegated to the regions in the country that hosts the EU institutions.

Flemish nationalist gains were matched by a large victory for the socialists in French-speaking Wallonia, with both parties now expected to spearhead government coalition talks.

The early elections were triggered after Flemish liberal party Open-VLD decided to leave the government over a dispute between French- and Dutch-speaking parties regarding electoral boundaries surrounding the capital, Brussels (EURACTIV 27/04/10).

Belgian King Albert II told Prime Minister Yves Leterme to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government was formed. On 8 July, the king appointed the leader of the French-speaking socialist party, Elio Di Rupo, to lead talks on forming a new government (EURACTIV 09/07/10).

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