Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Some progress, at last

Yves Leterme (center) with Joëlle Milquet (on his left) and Didier Reynders, at 3.30 a.m. this morning
Two months after their last agreement the orange-blue parties have reached a new compromise about one part of the policies of the next government. But even formateur Yves Leterme conceded that the success of this negotiation was in doubt until the last minute. Leterme and the party presidents of the four christian democratic and liberal parties held a press conference in the parliament-building at 3.30 a.m. on Tuesday morning (picture VRT). They proudly announced that they had negotiated a compromise on the policies of immigration of the next government. The most important changes proposed are that immigrants will henceforth have to wait five years instead of three, before they can obtain the Belgian nationality. In the future a new bride of an immigrant will only obtain the Belgian nationality if her husband can prove that he can finance a decent living for her. The formateur himself said that negotiations had been though and still seemed on the verge of collapsing about midnight Monday. But he also stressed that in the end the agreement reached was not a watered down compromise but the starting point for a clear-cut immigration policy. The uncertainty about the negotiations had been fuelled by a series of incidents during the weekend and on Monday. The Flemish liberal minister of Foreign Affairs Karel De Gucht said in a tv-interview on Sunday that the Flemish christian democrats had made huge concessions on their nationalist program. He publicly said what many observers thought, but the CD&V-bosses were not amused and reacted vehemently. On Saturday two Brussels newspapers – Le Soir and La Libre Belgique – published the text of the non-paper that royal scout Herman Van Rompuy negotiated a week earlier to lie down the procedure of constitutional reform. The fact that the note was leaked to the press, made the orange-blue parties again deep suspicious about a mole in their midst, determined to sabotage every kind of progress in the talks. On top of these incidents came a poisonous verbal exchange between Olivier Maingain, the president of the FDF (the Brussels-nationalist wing of the Walloon liberal MR) and Joëlle Milquet, the president of the Walloon Christian democrat CDH, about the interpretation of Van Rompuy’s non-paper. When the negotiators met each other again on Monday noon, it looked very much that the disputes of August had returned in full swing. Few journalist were ready to bet a dime on Letermes success Many hours later, the atmosphere was cleared up again. Gradually it seems that after 120 days of recriminations the orange-blue parties are beginning to accept that they are doomed to step into the same boot. But don’t bet too fast. The big issues still have to be discussed.

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