Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Land in sight

Go, comrades, and conquer ...
After four months of hesitation, negotiations for an orange-blue coalition are finally getting into full swing. The socialist parties have settled for a new role as his majesty’s federal opposition. Formateur Yves Leterme and the four presidents of the christan democratic and liberal parties reached an agreement on a Justice and Police program for the new coalition shortly before midnight on Monday evening. Again the Walloon Christian democrats of the CDH had taken up more leftish positions than the other three parties, which caused the negotiations to last well into the night (see for an explanation: Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?). In the end the new chapter of the government program still has very much a centre-right content. The possibilities for judges to bring youngsters from 14 years and older who commit grave crimes to adult tribunals, have largely been enhanced. Judges will be allowed in some cases of strong criminality to put limits on procedures for an early release. And the new government wants to build new prison cells for 1500 detainees, and recruit 1350 extra policemen all over the country. On Tuesday afternoon Leterme started negotiations on a new chapter, about health policy. In the morning he had seen the Flemish party presidents, to speak with them for the first time about the nationalistic issues since he was named formateur again. He will do the same with the Walloon party chiefs tomorrow. Tensions have somewhat come down, since Letermes CD&V at least informally accepted the procedure-calendar about constitutional reform as it was written down by royal scout Herman van Rompuy at the end of September. Last weekend Bart De Wever, the president of N-VA, the Flemish nationalist cartel-partner of CD&V, followed the same line in a tv-interview. He said that for the split up of the electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde – the other big thorny issue where nationalist views of Flemish and Walloons radically oppose each other – propably ‘a spoonful of sugar’ would be needed to make the Walloons accept. His comments were immediately greeted with protests about too much concessions, even from within the ranks of the N-VA itself. But although the nationalist issues remain a hard nut to crack, the general impression is that the four parties have taken the turn into the road towards a new coalition government. Some people now talk about a new cabinet – Leterme-Reynders - around half November. And speculations about who will be minister have started in the newspapers. The surest confirmation of all this came from the socialist parties, who have started to speak strong opposition language. The Flemish socialist minister Frank Vandenbroucke stressed in a newspaper article on Saturday that the Christian democrats of Leterme and the liberals of the VLD had definitely preferred a centre-right policy over the need to achieve constitutional reform. At a congress of his party in Liège on Sunday, Elio di Rupo, the president of the Walloon socialist,(picture) demanded ‘a territorial link’ between Wallony and Brussels. He so implicitly suggested that territorial gains for French-speaking Belgium should be made at the detriment of Flanders. It was the strongest nationalist stuff to be heard at a PS-congress in more than two decades.

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