Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Orchestrated manoeuvres in the dark

Still no clues are filtering out of the negotiations that royal scout Herman Van Rompuy is holding. But some of the sideshows are worth mentioning.
On the 12th day of his mission and the 93th day since the elections of June the 10th, details about the attempts of royal scout Herman Van Rompuy to form a Belgian government are still very sketchy. On Monday he reported to King Albert, but neither he, nor the palace communicated about what was said. What is known is that Van Rompuy works alone, and that he spoke eye to eye to individual political leaders until Monday-evening. On Tuesday he started negotiating with small delegations, meeting Flemish politicians from the liberal VLD an the Christian democratic CD&V in the morning, and their Walloon counterparts in the afternoon. Quite interesting was that the French-speaking media at the end of last week started to suggest that Van Rompuy, a Flemish Christian democrat, could be a prime minister who is much more acceptable to the Walloon parties than the strongman of his own party, Yves Leterme. The formal president of that party (CD&V), Jo Vandeurzen, immediately had to calm down some suspicions in his own party bureau on Monday morning. Leterme had a very bad press in the south of the country, during his failed attempt in July and August to form the government. French-speaking media accused him of being too Flemish-biased to take up the implicitly neutral position of prime minister of Belgium.

Also on Monday some new frictions filtered out between the Walloon liberals of the MR and the Walloon christian democrats of CDH. Didier Reynders, the MR-president, said in an interview that Van Rompuy had in the first place to sort out the differences between Flemish and Walloon christian democrats. This provoked a written statement from CDH-president Joëlle Milquet after her party bureau, wherein she repeated that the first ambition of the first party in Wallony – she meant the MR – should be to take the lead of a united front of Walloons.

On Monday for the first time since its creation as a separate assembly in 1995 the parliament of the Flemish region was almost overwhelmed by the international media, with Catalans and Basks in the forefront. The reason was that the parliament interrupted its still ongoing holiday to hear an interpellation from Filip Dewinter about the independence of Flanders. Dewinter (picture: during a tumultuous demonstration against islam in Brussels on tuesday) is the leader of the parliamentary party of the extreme-right Vlaams Belang, the former Vlaams Blok, since 2004 the largest section in the Flemish parliament.

Dewinter pressed Kris Peeters, the new chief minister who succeeded Yves Leterme at the end of June, to prepare a referendum on independence for Flanders, because the formation of a federal government had ended in a stalemate. Peeters, the three coalition partners in his government and the Green opposition, all rejected Dewinters proposal, although they stressed that the French-speaking parties should urgently give up their refusal to discuss further devolution. The international media took the message that the Flemish revolution is not yet in the making.

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