Sunday, 18 November 2007

Last call for orange-blue

Although officially negotiations are at a standstill, formateur Yves Leterme is discreetly trying to make a final attempt to form an orange-blue coalition. The next week might really be the decisive one. Two days after the latest nationalistic incident about three French-speaking mayors in three villages near Brussels that lie in the Flemish region, Didier Reynders, the leader of the Walloon liberal MR(picture), started to clear the deck for new negotiations. In newspaper and radio-interviews on Friday morning he said that if the Walloon parties in Belgium want to keep a federal state, they will have to accept that the institutions of the country change. Implicitly he definitely lifted the Walloon ‘non’ against further constitutional reform. At the same time he made clear he did not want to dramatize the situation in the three villages, although he insisted that the question of the nomination of the three mayors should be resolved. Later that day in the afternoon Reynders met all Walloon party presidents, including Elio di Rupo of the PS and Jean-Michel Javaux of Ecolo, to discuss a common Walloon approach about the nationalistic issues. Although the atmosphere of the talks was tense, to say the least, the four party presidents afterwards read a statement together. In it they did not say anything about global negotiations with the Flemish, but nevertheless asked for a negotiated solution about the electoral district of BHV. In between these events – and still more on Saturday - it was learned that formateur Yves Leterme, who seemed to have vanished at the beginning of the week, had become active again. According to some sources, he was trying to test a scenario in which at least one important element of constitutional reform would be written in the government agreement. The other issues would be mentioned, but would have to be worked out in the so-called ‘dialogue of communities’ of the two assembly-presidents. The crucial element would be fiscal autonomy. The Flemish region, which has a cash surplus, has been demanding for long more competences to introduce tax reductions. The present Finance Law, that regulates the financial mechanisms of federalism, allows that only marginally up to now. Leterme would propose that regions can introduce tax deductions, although not on corporate tax. The latter is a very sensitive issue for Walloon parties. In the government agreement the orange-blue coalition would accept that this reform should have to be voted by parliament before next summer. This means they will seek the support of some opposition parties to have the necessary two thirds majority. The Flemish parties and the MR were clearly engaged in this new approach of Leterme. Much doubts although remains about the Walloon Christian democrats, who have been taking very much a left-wing position during all the negotiations. They seem to remain linked to the Parti Socialiste with whom they govern the Walloon and Brussels regions. Friday, it was learned, CDH-president Joëlle Milquet had a long meeting with PS-president di Rupo to prepare together the meeting of all Walloon parties later that day. Milquet was not amused by the interviews of Reynders that morning. In it the liberal leader had also said that he had had the opportunity during negotiations to become the first Walloon Prime minister of Belgium since 35 years. But, he added, Milquet had preferred Yves Leterme for that role. Reynders seems to have accepted that he will not be the next prime minister. He still may reach two other goals he had during negotiations: a centre-right government without the PS and with only a little bit of constitutional reform. But again, as in the previous 161 days of government negotiations, it remains to be seen if Joëlle Milquet will say yes to his plans and schemes.

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