Sunday, 28 October 2007

Raising the stakes

The presidents of the Flemish christian democrat and liberal parties have put what amounts to an ultimatum on the negotiating table for an orange blue coalition. Or haven’t they? While formateur Yves Leterme and the negotiators in the parliament building last week continued to give press conferences about new agreements on different policies for the next government, nationalist tensions were steadily on the rise. First there was the fall-out of the incidents last Monday in three Flemish villages with a Walloon majority in the council (see Preparations for the final clash). The Flemish minister of the Interior Marino Keulen on Wednesday in a debate in the Flemish parliament made clear that the new incidents would not help the three majors concerned in their attempts to have their re-election last year officially confirmed. The power to do so lies in the hands of the minister. Keulen had subjected the nomination procedure to an inquiry into the attempts of the majors in September 2006 not to follow the legally prescribed language procedures – they tried to use French - during the election process for the local councils. The warning of the minister provoked a new angry reaction from FDF-leader Olivier Maingain the next day. He said that he would not accept any compromise on nationalist questions as long as the majors have not been confirmed in their office. Maingains FDF is part of the MR of Didier Reynders. The latter refused to confirm the threat of Maingain, but did not want to condemn it either. On Thursday it became again clear that CDH-president Joëlle Milquet was on a collision course with her Flemish colleagues about more than one question in the negotiations. The liberal party president Bart Somers publicly denounced her tactics and demanded that formateur Leterme should take the nationalist issues back to the table, just to test if all the rest still made sense. He openly criticized Letermes working method as too slow. Somers’ attack on Milquet received more than plain support from Jo Vandeurzen (picture, by Bart Dewael), the party president of CD&V, Letermes party. Vandeurzen said that it should be clear before the 7th of November if negotiations can lead to a compromise about the nationalist questions. If not, his party would stop to use delaying tactics in the commission of the Interior of the Lower House, were a Flemish proposal to split the electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde has been in discussion since early September. The Flemish MP’s have a majority in the Lower House, large enough to vote the proposal. But they have refrained from using it, as the Walloon parties had indeed threatened that such a one-sided decision would bring the end of all discussions about a new government. The next meeting of the commission is on the 7th of November. Vandeurzens threat, to which Somers adhered on Sunday, no doubt raises the stakes. But as there is, in the worst scenario, a commission vote on the 7th November, and not yet a decision of the plenary assembly of the Lower House, it remains to be seen if the Walloon parties will immediately switch off all lights. Pressure rises, cracks appear, but this could as well be a signal that there is enough hope that at some moment in the next days enough glue will be found to make an orange-blue coalition stick together.

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