Belgium divisions deepen further

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Bart de Wever, the Flemish separatist leader, failed yesterday (18 October) to bring views closer to reforming the Belgian state. But he apparently succeeded in consolidating the positions of all the Flemish parties and antagonising French-speaking Wallonia.

De Wever said he felt "humiliated" by the French-speaking parties' decision to reject a 50-page compromise proposal presented on Sunday (17 October).

He reported the failure of his mission to King Albert II on Monday evening.

"Fabula acta est" (this is the end of the story), said De Wever, an historian with a pronounced taste for Latin.

De Wever blamed the French-speaking parties for having rejected his proposal without taking the time to read it. However, the Belgian press reports that his proposal had in fact been leaked amid huge anticipation.

In the French-speaking part of the country, the Socialist Party, which emerged as the big winner of the June elections, accused De Wever of deliberately steering Belgium into a dead-end street.

"We ask ourselves whether the objective is not to bring the country into political deadlock and to provoke elections in a climate of tension between the communities," said Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo. He stressed that his party was strongly against holding new elections.

Di Rupo also blasted De Wever for failing to involve in his ten days of consultation all the seven parties that had participated so far in efforts to reach a compromise on state reform.

On the French-speaking side, the consultations involved the Socialist Party (PS), the centre-right CDH and the Greens (Ecolo). The liberal MR party and its radical francophone faction, the FDF, were left out. On the Flemish side, four parties were represented: the N-VA, the centre-right CD&V, socialists SPA and the ecologists of the Groen party.

Di Rupo also denounced De Wever's proposals as a compromise between the Flemish parties, which he said did not take French-speaking positions into account.

He also said he was "shocked" by the treatment of the Brussels region, which according to De Wever's proposals would lose its autonomy and be governed by the two linguistic communities.

Kris Peeters, prime minister of Flanders, saw it as "positive" that De Wever had put a text on the table. He appealed to all parties involved to continue negotiating and ruled out new elections.

Wouter Beke, president of the Flemish Christian Democrat CD&V party, said there were elements of De Wever's compromise proposal that deserved attention. "I call on all parties, in particular the francophone ones, to leave their emotions aside and enter reasonable discussions."

Flemish Green leader Wouter Van Besien said the text put forward by De Wever contained "enough positive elements" to serve as a basis for negotiations.

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 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.

In the midst of this major political crisis, Belgium is rather successfully holding the rotating EU presidency.

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