Friday, 30 November 2007

Seconds from disaster (part two)

Formateur Yves Leterme (picture: belga press agency) has made this evening what seems to be his last proposal of a procedure for constitutional reforms to the four parties of a possible orange-blue coalition. He wants an answer tomorrow in the morning. Leterme held the whole week long discreet negotiatons with his potential coalition partners, the Flemish and Walloon Christian democrats and liberals. He wanted to break the new deadlock that had arisen after the nationalist N-VA (allied in a cartel with the Flemish Christian democrats of Letermes own CD&V) had rejected another proposal for constitutional reform on Monday evening. The four party presidents and Leterme had a long meeting in the night from Wednesday to Thursday. This morning they were together again since 11:30 a.m. in one of the meeting rooms of the federal parliament. The two assembly presidents, Herman Van Rompuy and Armand De Decker, joined them. The atmosphere was said to be tense. The meeting broke up shortly before 6 p.m. Leterme issued a written statement. It soon became clear that the formateur, to satisfy the N-VA, had added three questions to his rejected proposal from last weekend. The first asked if all subjects were open for discussion inside the Convention and its Bureau that will have to prepare constitutional reform inside the parliament. In his second question Leterme asked if the regions should get the competence of introducing fiscal incentives for enterprises themselves instead of the federal government. And in the third one the formateur wanted to know if constitutional reform with a two third majority was enough, or that it should be achieved also by a (legally not necessary) simple majority of votes in each language group in parliament. For all three of the questions it was clear that the two Walloon parties would have the most difficulties to say yes. The third one could indeed be seen as an explicit demand for clarification towards Joëlle Milquet, the president of CDH, if she was ready to risk constitutional reform without the approval of the Walloon socialists of the PS, her coalition partner in the regional governments of Brussels and Wallony. Leterme gave all four parties time until 9 a.m. tomorrow to come up with answers that probably all should be yes. He has played his last card in what is no longer a negotiation, but a final game of political poker.

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