Monday, 3 September 2007

85 days of political crisis in Belgium

I’m starting this blog in an attempt to explain to people abroad (and in my best English) why my country, Belgium, is going through one of its most difficult political crisis ever. After parliamentary elections on June the 10th king Albert II charged, as is usual, a leading poltician with the task of forming a new government. Up to four politician have been sent out since then. Didier Reynders (49), leader of the French-speaking liberals (MR) and still minister of Finance in the outgoing previous government of Guy Verhofstadt, was made informateur (the word is used both in French and Dutch) on June the 13th to see what coalition was most likely to succeed.

Three weeks later, on July the 5 th, the king sent out Jean-Luc Dehaene (67) as mediator (bemiddelaar in Dutch, mediateur in French), to defuse the conflict-issues between Flemish and Walloon poltical parties before a coalition between christian democrats and liberals could be tried. Dehaene, a Flemish christian democrat, was Belgium’s prime minister between 1992 and 1999 and only a veto from the British prime minister John Major prevented him to succeed Jacques Delors as President of the European Commission in 1994.

Dehaene failed however in this mission and on July the 15th king Albert nominated Yves Leterme (46), the chief minister of the Flanders region and the strongman of the Flemish christian democrats formateur (this word is also both French and Dutch, in English one could translate it into ‘government maker’). For exactly fourty days he tried, in the castle of Hertoginnedal -Val Duchesse at the outskirts of Brussels, to put together the ‘orange-blue’ coalition (in French, like in English, you can play upon the words with the image of a blue orange, but you can’t in Dutch). In the end he broke his teeths on the communal issues between Flemings and Walloons.

Leterme resigned on August the 24 th. King Albert came back from holiday at the Côte d’Azur and after five days of uncertainty he sent out another veteran christian democrat, Herman Van Rompuy, with the unusual title of scout (verkenner in Dutch, explorateur in the official message of the palace, although some say that éclaireur is a better French word). Van Rompuy (60), also a Flemish christian democrat, was deputy prime minister between 1993 and 1999, and has, like Dehaene, a long experience in negotiations between Flemings and Walloons about constitutional reforms.

His nomination was greeted on both sides of the language border as that of a wise and discreet man. But everyone acknowledges that 85 days after the elections the making of a new government still has to begin. Belgium has had long and difficult formation-negotiations before – the record is 148 days in 1988 - but it never took so long to come out with a first compromise. Since a week or two the issue of seceding Flanders from Belgium is widely discussed in the Flemish media, in a rather undercooled way – with the disadvantages explained as much as the potential gains. And, in line with a good Belgian tradition, the political crisis and the communal tensions have up to now not led to a single demonstration , strike or riot.

Still, the Belgian crisis is a good case-study for everyone who is interested in nationality-conflicts in Europe. And so we will try to keep up with events as they unfold. Come and see…

(The picture above from Myriam Lemmens shows a part of the national monument on the very charming Martelaarsplein - Place des Martyrs in Brussels. The monument is dedicated to the deads of the Belgian uprising for independance in 1830. The picture was taken in 2004 when the monument had been neglected for many decades. As can be seen greenery grew upon the marble)

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