Friday, 9 November 2007

Who's turn to take a U-turn?

The royal intervention of Thursday in government negotiations in Belgium seems to have had only limited effect. The parties that officially still want to form an orange blue coalition, were pressed from all sides and once again infighting. ‘What a U-turn!’ was the almost unanimous tone of the articles in the Flemish newspapers Friday morning after the royal statement of Thursday afternoon. In venomous comments fingers were pointed to CD&V. Had not that party always sworn during the elections that it would not enter into a government if there was no agreement on constitutional reform? Now king Albert had evacuated the issue, away from the government negotiations, to entrust it to some mouldy committee of unnamed wise men. At the same time the indirect consequence of the vote of Flemish against Walloons on Wednesday in the Lower House, was that the other thorny nationalistic issue, the division of BHV, was buried in a parliamentary procedure that could take months if not years to reach an outcome. ‘CD&V prefers prime ministership above electoral promisses’ was one of the sharpest headlines in the Flemish newspaper De Standaard. It did not help that two Brussels newspapers, La Libre Belgique and Le Soir, published stories on Friday morning wherein they tried to prove that the whole crisis around the Lower house vote had been planned by formateur Leterme and maybe also by the Walloon party-leaders Didier Reynders en Joëlle Milquet, to break the deadlock in their negotiations. I In that version of events, Leterme concocted the plan with the Flemish party leaders on Tuesday evening as soon as al hopes to prevent a vote of Flemish against Walloons had disappeared. They designed a strategy to make the best of it, as the vote evacuated BHV away from government negotiations. Leterme would then have lured Reynders and Milquet into the plot on Thursday noon, by accepting to evacuate also constitutional reform. The whole menu was a few hours later presented to the King, who accepted to make a statement in that sense. The plot sounded like a perfect Belgian story: extremely pragmatic in the approach of the politicians, keeping up the peace for the time being, solving nothing and thoroughly surrealistic in the impression it left. ‘For once Yves Leterme had a plan that worked’, a unnamed leading Flemish politician would have said, according to La Libre Belgique. But the plan, if there ever was any, did not work yet. The story created turnmoil in the assembly of the French Community, that brings together French-speaking MP’s from the Brussels and Wallony region. It met on Friday afternoon to vote the calling of a conflict of intrest, a procedure to protect the Walloon minority against potential abuse of power of the Flemish majority in Belgium. The vote should have been a demonstration of Walloon unity against the Flemish power play of Wednesday. But the meeting turned into a nasty dispute when the socialists MP’s accused their liberal counterparts of treachery towards francophone interests, and the latter left the assembly hall. The liberal leader Didier Reynders evidently had already felt some of the heat, when he said on Thursday evening that he wanted an apology of the Flemish parties before he would start government negotiations again. That demand, together with the humiliating comments in the Flemish press, made nerves break inside CD&V on Friday morning. Its president, Jo Vandeurzen called for a press conference at noon, together with his cartel-colleague, N-VA-president Bart De Wever. ‘Let there be no doubt: we will not start to negotiate again if we don’t have first a guarantee that we will have constitutional reform’, said Vandeurzen, ‘and we do not see any reason for apologizing.’
‘This is not even a dialogue of deafs anymore, it is a mere flood of monologues’, said a commentator on RTBf-television on Friday evening. The weekend should bring the minds to rest again. Although on Saturday morning the two assembly-presidents that were designated by King Albert, Herman Van Rompuy and Armand De Decker, want to start their ‘dialogue of the communities'.

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