Friday, 7 September 2007

All quiet on the Belgian front

The British weekly The Economist might have given up on Belgium, but royal scout Herman Van Rompuy is still trying to bring together a federal government.

The Economist let the bells toll on Belgium Friday. It must have been more than a generation ago that the weekly chose the country as the subject of its second leader, but it sure was to announce its obituary. States are not eternal, the editors said, and it does not make sense to keep them alive at the price of bad government. They seemed to have no doubt that the latter is the case today in Belgium, largely due to the disputes between Flemings and Walloons.

For the moment Herman Van Rompuy (picture) does not agree. The royal scout, who was sent out by King Albert eight days ago, continues to search for a way out of the stalemate. And though the media do not like it, for the moment he succeeds in working in almost complete discretion.

After his failure in the beginning of the week to lure the greens, he seems to have tried the option of bringing the Walloon socialist of the PS at the negotiating table. With them the coalition of liberals and christian democrats would have 101 seats of the 150 in the Lower House, the necessary two third majority to change the constitution.

Van Rompuy's attempt was immediately cut short by Didier Reynders, the president of the Walloon liberals (MR). Reynders party is for the first time since 1893 greater than the socialists in Wallony, and he would like to consolidate this position by keeping them out of the perks of power.

So Van Rompuy tried some new proposals, still about an orange-blue coalition, towards the end of the week. Details did not filter out. But the outgoing minister of Foreign Affairs, Karel De Gucht, a Flemish liberal, stressed Friday that ‘the scout should not hesitate to take as much time as he thinks necessary.’

At the headquarters of the Walloon liberal and Christian democratic parties remarks where heard about the fact that the scout is a far better negotiator than the real leader of his party, Yves Leterme, and might be more acceptable as a prime minister for the French-speaking population of Belgium. Leterme is considered to be ‘too Flemish’ by all the Walloon politicians and media. This might just be the reason why he took a monster-score in Flanders in the last elections.

But even with more confidence in Van Rompuy at both headquarters, its chances of success still were estimated to be no higher than fifty-fifty. That the Economist should be wrong is yet not proven

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