Friday, 21 December 2007

End of a crisis, at least for a moment

There is, at least formally, a new government in Belgium. The political crisis is over, for the time being. The subject for this blog no longer exists. So we bring it here to an end. Or should we say: we just take a break?

The very fragile coalition that has been put together by Guy Verhofstadt for officialy no longer than three months, can break apart at any moment. The new crisis will then probably be worse than the one of the 192 past days. Or will the knowledge that it will be worse precisely temper all the political fights and disputes of the last months, after a few weeks of rest around Christmas and New year. Who knows?
What is wrong with Belgium? We explained the deeper roots of the nationality-crisis in the country and of the problems to form an orange-blue coalition before (7 september and 8 september:Old quarrel, new twist and 17 september: Is this the real life; is this just phantasy?). With the benefit of hindsight one can add a few things.
The direct cause of this crisis has no doubt been the decision of the Flemish christian democrats of CD&V to embrace Flemish nationalism. Formally this happened at the end of 2003 when the then opposition-leader Yves Leterme forged his cartel with the N-VA of Bart Dewever. CD&V, once the leading party of the country, had fallen to 21 % of the votes in Flanders in 2003, after thirty years of steady decline. The party knew for long it had an electoral reservoir in nationalism, but had not tapped in it for fear of being kicked out of the Belgian establishmet. After the Flemsh liberals had become the biggest party in 1999, they were kicked out. So they opened up Pandora’s box. And largely won the elections of June the 10th.
The N-VA, which is officialy separatist, has certainly contributed to the present crisis. At least twice in the negotiations it reacted negatively when the leader of the Walloon liberals, Didier Reynders, softened his positions on the nationality-issues. They failed to see the opportunity, or did not want to see it. And each time they took CD&V with them.
But the deeper cause of the crisis lies in the big differences in public opinion in the (Flemish) north and the (Walloon) south of the country. As there are no longer parties with a nationwide appeal – Flemish parties present themselves only in Flanders to voters, Walloon only in Wallony and Brussels – it becomes more and more difficult to form a dynamic government. The federal council of ministers looks more and more like a bilateral conference of delegates from two regions.
Flemish public opinion is divided fifty-fifty in left and right. Wallony has always been very left-wing. In Wallony Didier Reynders won the election of June the 10th, and for the first time since 1894 the socialists (PS) were no longer the biggest party in French-speaking Belgium. So Reynders thought he could lure the Walloon Christian democrats of CDH into a government without the socialists. It took six months to become obvious to everybody that CDH was too strongly linked wth the PS, and in fact a left-wing party. The party itself is not really clear about it, because it still has many right-wing voters in rural areas.
All this has led to a Belgian government in which the Flemish parties have formed a centre-right coalition and the Walloon a centre-left. The logical conclusion out of this is further devolution. But that is not as logical as it seems. Devolution means larger responsibilities for the regions. But Wallony and Brussels are still economically weaker than Flanders, and their royal social policy is largely financed through federal fiscal revenues.
Unemployment – which is unlimited in time in Belgium – is twice as high in Wallony than in Flanders. It is because of the perception in (centre-right and right-wing opinion in) Flanders that left-wing Walloon politicians will do nothing about it – trade unions pay the unemployment benefits and recruit tens of thousands of members through this system – that Flemish demands for devolution of employment policy has become one of the hottest issue in the nationality-disputes.
In the third government of Guy Verhofstadt CDH has now obtained the portfolio of … Employment Policy. It has designated Josly Piette for the post, who until two years ago was the leader of the Walloon wing of the largest, Christian trade union in the country. One can expect he will either try to soften the inevitable reform of the unemployment system to keep the damage for the unions as small as possible, or that he will obstruct it all along. In the latter case, do not bet a dime on Belgium’s future.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

At last, some kind of government

Outgoing prime minister Guy Verhofstadt (picture) succeeded at last, on Wednesday morning at 1.30 a.m., to form a new government in Belgium, 192 days after the elections of June the 10th. The new coalition of liberals, christian democrats and Walloon socialists, will start as a so-called ‘interim-government’ for three months.
Guy Verhofstadt received Joëlle Milquet, the leader of the Walloon Christian democrats (CDH) on Tuesday evening at his cabinet. Apparently he had succeeded before in convincing the Walloon liberals to lift their veto against the full participation of CDH in the new coalition. It seems Verhofstadt strengthened the position of MR-leader Didier Reynders in the new cabinet, by making him responsible for working out the social and economic policies for the next three years.
Milquet obtained a full minister, something she had not received when she announced her intention to go into opposition on Tuesday morning. The minister will almost certainly be Josly Piette, 64, the retired leader of the Walloon wing of the Christian trade union, the largest union in the country. He will hold the crucial portfolio of Employment Policy.
The five parties agreed that the new cabinet will have 14 ministers and no junior secretaries. The Flemish christian democrats of CD&V will have 4 mandates, the liberals of MR and VLD and the Walloon socialists (PS) each three, and CDH one. N-VA, the Flemish nationalist cartel-partner of CD&V, will stay out of the government, but announced it will give its support.
The Flemish liberal Guy Verhofstadt, who is prime minister since 1999, will stay in office until Easter next year. He should then be succeeded by Yves Leterme, the leader of CD&V. Leterme will now probably hold the portfolio of Institutional Reforms and will play as much a key role in preparing a full-blown government after Easter as Didier Reynders. After Easter he might be succeeded as minister of Institutional Reforms by N-VA-leader Bart De Wever.
There is, remarkably, not yet an official document with the agreements about what the interim-government should do. But on Thursday evening the political parties will hold congresses to see if the rank and file can agree. The government-Verhofstadt III should be sworn in at the royal palace on Friday morning and present itself to the Lower House that afternoon. A vote of confidence is expected on Sunday

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Power struggle in Wallony

The attempt of Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt to start a new cabinet after 191 days without government ran into trouble on Tuesday. A power struggle between the two main Walloon parties, the socialists and the liberals, made compromise almost impossible.
Verhofstadt met the four party presidents of the Flemish Christian democrats and liberals and of the Walloon socialists and liberals on Monday evening. After two hours of discussions it was obvious that one knot still had to be untied. The Walloon socialists demanded that the Walloon Christian democrats should be taken into the new government, officially to make the Walloon postion stronger. The Walloon liberal MR refused precisely a coalition with both the socialists and Christian democrats, fearing it would be marginalized in what it called a ‘left-wing block’.
On Tuesday morning the president of the Walloon Christian democrat CDH, Joëlle Milquet, went to see Verhofstadt. He seems to have informed her about the veto of the MR. Milquet immediately called together the leading figures of her party. Together they decided ‘that it would be more sane to stay out’. Milquet added that she was still prepared to support the new government on some issues, and remained ready to participate in it at some later moment.
` When Milquet and the CDH took their decision, the president of the Walloon socialist PS was still explaining on the radio that he definitely wanted the CDH to be part of the new government. In mid-afternoon the PS repeated this position in an official statement. It asked Verhofstadt ‘to make a last try to put the CDH into the government’. Otherwise ‘the PS would not be able to give its confidence to the new cabinet.’

Monday, 17 December 2007

From Christmas to Easter

King Albert II appointed on Monday afternoon the outgoing prime minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt (picture) to form and lead a provisional government until Easter. The government has to take themost urgently needed measures for the country. It will consist of the two liberal parties, the Flemish Christian democrats and the Walloon socialist, at least.
Verhofstadt, who had been sent out by the King two weeks ago – he was leading the former and now caretaking government until then – seemed to have arrived at a dead end last Wednesday. Interminal disputes among all parties were making every quick solution impossible. In the second half of the week the outgoing prime minister had to concentrate on the European summits in Lisbon and Brussels.
But on Sunday evening it was learned that he had invited the presidents of four parties to his official residence in Lambermont Street: Didier Reynders of the Walloon liberals, Bart Somers of the Flemish liberals, Jo Vandeurzen of the Flemish Christian democrats and Elio di Rupo of the Walloon socialists. Cameras registrated that a good meal was served.
The combination was new. It was the outgoing coalition without the Flemish socialist, but with the Flemish Christian democrats. That switch was not a surprise, because the former had repeatedly said they did want heal their wounds in the opposition after their disaster at the polls in June. In Flanders the orange-blue coalition remains in the cards.
The Walloon side was more surprising. PS-president di Rupo had repeatedly said he wanted all Walloon parties to enter the coalition because he wishes to make them all responsible for the grave decisions that will have to be taken about the future of the country. MR-president Reynders had continuously refused to enter into that game, because he feared being put totally into the minority against the three left wing parties in Wallony. Although both continued their bickering over the issue today, they took care not to shut the door for Verhofstadt and his proposal for a coalition.
Together these parties command 91 seats in the Lower House. They need 100 to pursue constitutional reform. But to work out this reform will be the task of Yves Leterme, his predecessor as formateur, Verhofstadt explained in a statement issued after his visit to the king. The outgoing prime minister said he would lead a caretaker government that will handle all urgent matters and will stay in power until March the 23th, Easter Day. The words ‘Provisional Government’ are carefully avoided, as this was the name used in 1830 by the revolutionaries who created Belgium.
Verhofstadt indicated that he would in three months hand over his prime ministership to Yves Leterme, if this one has achieved an agreement for a new coalition for the remaining three years by then. Clearly Leterme and Verhofstadt, the greatest rivals before the elections, have now made their deal.
But for the moment it remains unclear if MR and PS have already fully agreed and if the Walloon Christian democrats will immediately add their 10 seats to the 91 of the coalition or later. If these last mysteries would get solved Tuesday, the government Verhofstadt III might be into power before Christmas.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Still the same

The outgoing prime minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, seems to have failed in his attempt to form quickly a caretaker government for a few months. He now has to concentrate his ‘information-mission’ on finding a way to start negotiations on constitutional reform.
Guy Verhofstadt, 54, was hailed as the saviour of the country by almost the whole of the Belgian press – in both Flanders and Wallony – the day after King Albert asked him to collect information about ways out of the crisis. All media noted that the christian democrats and their leader Yves Leterme were out, at least for the time being.
Verhofstadt consulted the presidents of all political parties – except for the extreme right Vlaams Belang – and the two assembly presidents on Tuesday and Wednesday. He seems to have proposed to some of them that the outgoing government of socialists and liberals should go before parliament and obtain the confidence. It would then work as a caretaker government, taking the most urgent budgetary and legal measures, for a few months. He did not mention if he would lead this government, but most of his guests assumed he would.
The proposal received mixed reactions. The Flemish socialists (SP.A) refused to play in that scenario, fearing it could still ultimately lead to an orange-blue coalition they surely did not want to give a helping hand. Their Walloon counterpart of the PS demanded an effective new government, consisting of all traditional parties: the liberals, Christian democrats and socialists. It could then push trough a reform of the constitution. Finally CD&V, the party of Leterme, vetoed the scenario as well.
Verhofstadt, who met Leterme on Wednesday evening in the well-known restaurant of the hostellerie Kemmelberg in Western-Flanders province(picture), is now obliged to find a procedure to discuss that constitutional reform and probably also a government that is sure a two third majority in parliament. All party leaders seem more and more to accept these two ideas. Previous scenario’s about a constitutional convention have meanwhile been abandoned.
But before constitutional reform can become reality, some other options will have to be decided. One is the question if the Walloon Christian democrats (CDH) should still be part of an enlarged government. MR-president Reynders now wants to keep them out, because he blames their president, Joëlle Milquet, for the failure of orange-blue. But the Walloon socialist leader Elio di Rupo has already said that he will not enter a government without the CDH.
The second question is who will lead this government. Yves Leterme said on Saturday he was still a candidate. But so are probably Didier Reynders, maybe Elio di Rupo, and – back again – Guy Verhofstadt.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

ON LOCATION: The decline and fall of Burgundy

Like each drama, the Belgian crisis is a long story of unusual events on many locations. But do not expect the normal elements of a nationality crisis like bloodshed, riots or huge demonstrations. Most of the scenery had to do with hotels, castles and restaurants. After all, Brussels was once the capital city of the dukes of Burgundy, who in the fifteenth century for more than 100 years lavishly spent their gold on painters like Van Eyck and Memling, the first polyfon musicians and the finest clothes in Europe. And above all they made a few dishes (boeuf bourguignon to name but one) and the wines of Burgundy world-famous. So follow us on a short sight-seeiing along the path of Belgiums crisis: 1. Discothèque Claridge, Place Madou, Saint-Josse, June the 10th

On the evening of election day this brandnew disco under the Madou Tower was hired (for at least 4000 euro) by the cartel of the Flemish christian democrat CD&V and the Flemish nationalist N-VA to celebrate an expected victory. It was a surprising choice for the normally rather dull party, but a celebration it was indeed. The cartel became by far the strongest formation in parliament and CD&V's leader Yves Leterme obtained a huge personal score of 800.000 votes. Flags with lions, the symbol of the Flemish region, were deployed in great numbers, causing a slight scare among many French-speaking Belgians who saw the images on tv.

2. Saint-Johns Hospital, Botanic Garden Lane 32, Brussels, June the 26th On June the 26th the 73 years old King Albert II fell in his palace in Brussels and was brought to the hospital of Saint John a few hundred meters from the Madou Tower. He received a new hip and had to stay for about ten days in the hospital. On his sickbed politician after politician came to visit him, as the first initiatives to form a new government had to be taken. Didier Reynders, the leader of the Walloon liberal MR, who had been designated informateur, came most of all and was frequently met by a few dozen camera's at the entrance of the hospital. 3. The cathedral of Saint-Gudule, center of Brussels, July the 21st As on each national day in Belgium, the 21 st of July started with mass in the greatest and oldest cathedral of Brussel, where five centuries ago the young Habsburg sovereign an later emperor Charles the fifth was crowned king of Spain. This time the newly appointed formateur Yves Leterme came to attend. At the entrance he was jokingly asked by a French-speaking tv-journalist if he could sing the national anthem in French. Leterme started to sing and seems not to have realised immediately that he was singing the Marseillaise, the national anthem of France. Certainly in the French-speaking media in Belgium, suspicions against him took a new twist. 4. The castle of Hertoginnedal, Oudergem on the southeastern outskirts of Brussels, July the 24th

When Yves Leterme started to negotiate a coalition of liberal and christian democrat parties, he took the whole crowd to the castle of Hertoginnedal. This was the place were a former prime minister, Jean-Luc Dehaene, held his government meetings between 1992 and 1999 because there it was possible to keep the press at a distance of the discussions. Leterme hoped he could like Dehaene keep the inner secrets of the castle out of the media. But he overlooked one crucial detail: since then cell phones and PDA's have penetrated daily lives. And soon it became clear that negotiators inside were sending sms-messages and e-mails to the waiting journalist outside. The failure to keep the most delicate elements of the negotiations out of the press was one of the elements that led to Letermes first resignation on August the 24th.
5. Hotel Conrad, Avenue Louise, Brussels, August the 8th
In an attempt to flee the press at the gates of Hertoginnedal, Yves Leterme decided on August the 8th to trade places. He met with the presidents of the two Walloon parties, Jöëlle Milquet and Didier Reynders, at hotel Conrad, one of the most prestigious of Brussels. But to no use: Milquet was filmed with a paper with the heading of the hotel a few hours later, and at that moment the proposal Leterme presented to her at the hotel was already published on some websites. 6. The royal castle of Ciergnon, The Ardennes in Luxemburg-province, September the 29th
In the weekend of 29 and 30 September King Albert was taking some rest to recuperate from his hip operation in the castle of Ciergnon in the Ardennes. The castle is from 1842, and Albert lived there for almost four years as a young teenager during German occupation in World War II. But on this Saturday he received the visit of Herman Van Rompuy, the new president of the Lower House and a leading Flemish christian democrat. Four weeks before the king had appointed this 'wise man' to a role of 'scout' to bring the orange-blue parties back to the table after the first failure of Leterme. Van Rompuy came to report this Saturday afternoon that he had succeeded in reaching a limited agreement on the procedure to tackle the nationalistic issues in the negotiations. In the days afterwards some of the negotiators denied that there had been any agreement. But the king accepted the report. And in the evening, after sunset and in the rain, suddenly the car of Yves Leterme entered the gates of the castle. Slightly more than an hour later he was again formateur.
7. The stands of Standard Football Club de Liège, October the 27th
Building a government is a form of team-building. It did help in the negotiations that both Yves Leterme and MR-president Didier Reynders (the two most on the right) were fans of Lièges most famous football club, Standard, located right into the ancient industrial heart of the city at the Meuse. That might seem strange for Leterme, a Flemish citizen living about 200 kilometers from Liège, but he has a French father and Standard has many Flemish fans. Other negotiators attended too. From left to right: Melchior Wathelet from the Walloon christian democrats and from Verviers, 20 km east of Liège; Patrick Dewael, from the Flemish liberal VLD and from Tongeren, 15 km to the north of Liège; Inge Vervotte from Letermes CD&V and from Mechelen; and Bart Somers, the party president of the VLD and mayor of the Flemish city of Mechelen. Standard, the leader in the Belgian competition, played against KV Mechelen that evening. The game ended in a draw: 2-2.
8. The Law Street (Wetstraat - rue de la Loi), Brussels, November the 6th
The Brussels Law Street is the heart of political Belgium with parliament and the cabinet of the prime minister (not to mention the European Commission some 500 meters to the east). Most of the pictures of the Belgian crisis have inevitably been taken there. And of course spin doctors took all kind of initiatives to put their minister or party leader into an original picture pose (it is well known they stop their car beyond the corner to make a seemingly spontaneous walk towards the waiting camera's). The price for the most impressive scenery goes to the picture above, when the Flemish delegation leaders at the negotiations synchronised their walk in the Law Street (again after sunset) and came out of the darkness to stand as a united Flemish front shoulder to shoulder in forefront of the camera's before meeting the formateur. Something their Walloon counterparts never succeeded in (or may not have considered to do, of course). 9. The Commission of the Interior of the Lower House, The Europe-Room in the Palace of the Nation, Law Street, Brussels, November the 7th.
It looks like a normal voting scene in a normal parliament, but this image is forever (or at least for a couple of days) engraved into the minds of French-speaking politicians and many citizens as 'la giffle' (the slap in the face). For the first time in living memory the Flemish majority in parliament decided a question on a nationalistic issue - the division of the bilingual electoral district of Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde - with a unilalteral vote, after the Walloon politicians had left the commission. Emotions went high that day, not the least because the extreme right and extreme Flemish nationalists of Vlaams Belang were sitting on the first row, apparently as a kind of vanguard of all Flemish politicians. But the discussions rapidly calmed down after everyone realized that it was only a commission-vote, and that specific constitutional procedures to protect the French-speaking minority of the country would enable the Walloons to delay a final vote on the issue for almost 18 months.
10. La branche d'Olivier, brasserie, Englandstreet 172, Uccle, a southern suburb of Brussels, November the 22th
After the vote in parliament on November the 7th it took 15 days before the Walloon politicians were ready to sit openly at the same table with their Flemish counterparts again. Meanwhile the king had appointed two mediators, Armand De Decker, the president of the Upper House, and again Herman Van Rompuy ,as mediators to help Yves Leterme. Dedecker, who lives in Uccle (Ukkel in Dutch), suggested one of his favourite restaurants around the corner to organise the meeting. And so the orange-blue negotiations took an umpteeth start that evening. The food seems to have been excellent, the discussions lasted till half past one, but a breakthrough was not in the cards.
11. Hof ter Vrijlegem, farm-hotel, Mollem, a Flemish village to the northwest of Brussels, November the 25th
Still in search for a discreet location to negotiate a final breakthrough in their never-ending negotiations, Yves Leterme and the four party-presidents of the orange-blue coalition made their way on Sunday - again after sunset - to the bucolic location of Mollem, only 20 kilometers from the Grand Market in Brussels. They met at Hof ter Vrijlegem, a farm turned into a small hotel (rooms from 70 € onwards) and with dining and meeting facilities. The diner-negotiation lasted beyond midnight. But at the end the participants left with a feeling that they finally had reached an agreement on a time-table for negotiations on constitutional reform.
12. Hotel Bristol, Avenue Louise, Brussels, November the 28th
The agreement (still with a few brackets of disagreement) of Sunday did not hold. On Monday evening - still after sunset - it was refuted by the Flemish nationalist N-VA, the cartel partner of Letermes CD&V. That party did not participate directly in the last negotiations, but was thought to be represented by CD&V-president Jo Vandeurzen. So there followed another night, on Wednesday, in another hotel. This time it was the Bristol, on the Avenue Louise again, but slightly less prestigious than the Conrad. Discussions were head-on, and although N-VA-president Bart Dewever again did not participate in the negotiations, he was present in a nearby room to be consulted whenever necessary. Nobody left before 3.30 p.m. And this time there was a feeling that final failure after 170 days was the most probable outcome. 13. The temporary party-headquarters of the Flemish christian democrats, Brussels road 806, Zellik, a suburban village on the westside of Brussels, December the 1st
Shortly before their election victory the Flemish christian democrats of Yves Leterme left their party headquarters in the Brussels Law Street 89. The building needed to be renovated. They were for a while in search of a good replacement, and finally found one at the local headquarters of their provincial party of Vlaams-Brabant in Zellik. The place soon was to appear almost every week on tv, because crucial meeting after crucial meeting took place. On Saturday the 1st December it was there that Yves Leterme was received at 4 p.m. after he had returned from Belvedere-castle where had handed down his resignation to the King. His fellow-partymen received their leader with applause and Leterme had a difficult emotional moment. But the applause could not hide that this was a dull room in a dull building on the dull old road from Brussels to Gent in a dull suburban village. The 800.000 votes of Yves Leterme were not turned into power. They seemed a distant memory, as far away as the one of The Claridge, the flashy disco under the Madou Tower on June the 10th.
14. Clos St.Denis, two stars restaurant, Vliermaal in Limburg-province between Hasselt and Liège, Sunday the 2nd of December.
As the christian democrats were still considering the reasons why they failed in their attempt to become the ever-leading party of Belgium again, the liberals decided it was their turn. The leaders of the Walloon MR and of the Flemish VLD met each other - of course after sunset - at restaurant Clos St.Denis to discuss how they could take the initiative. Among them, for the first time in months, was outgoing prime minister Guy Verhofstadt. He was received and sent out by King Albert the next day to inform him about an eventual way out of the crisis. With the liberals instead of the christian democrats in the driver's seat, a style-break was in the making. After all, the Clos StDenis is one of the finest restaurants of Belgium, with two stars in the Guide Michelin. Far more expensive of course than the farm-hotel of Yves Leterme, but probably also far more surprising than the dull luxury hotels of the Avenue Louise ...
Come and see ...

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Enter the prime minister

The outgoing prime minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt (picture), started Tuesday his consultations to seek a way out of the political crisis. In an unusual step king Albert asked him to do so the evening before.
Verhofstadt, prime minister of Belgium since 1999 and a Flemish liberal, was received by King Albert on Sunday and twice on Monday. The king seems to have consulted Didier Reynders, the president of the Walloon liberals on Saturday evening, shortly after the resignation of the Christian democratic formateur Yves Leterme.
According to some sources the leaders of the Flemish and Walloon liberals, including Verhofstadt and Reynders, met on Sunday evening in the restaurant Clos St-Denis – quoted with two stars in the latest edition of the Guide Michelin – in a village about twenty kilometers to the west of Maastricht. Their aim was to work out a strategy wherein the liberals should take over the initiative from the Flemish Christian democrats.
Verhofstadt seems himself to have hesitated to abandon the low profile he had kept since his election defeat on June the 10th. In his own party some resistance was heard against his return. But on Monday at 6 p.m. the palace issued a statement in which it said it ‘had asked prime minister Verhofstadt to inform the king on short notice how the present deadlock can be broken and to contact the necessary people to do so.’
Verhofstadt himself then read a statement to the press at 6.40 p.m. in the entrance hall of his cabinet. In it he said his mission was ‘ very temporary and limited’. His main task was ‘to start a process of constitutional reform’ and to ‘seek an outcome for some urgent issues’ in the economic field.
On Tuesday Verhofstadt met with the two assembly presidents, Herman Van Rompuy and Armand Dedecker, who have not been relieved of their mission by the King. He also consulted a series of party presidents.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

"A deep crisis of the regime"

After two full months of negotiations Yves Leterme, the strongman of the Flemish Christian democrats, handed Saturday afternoon for the second time his mission as formateur of the next government back to king Albert. On the 174th day without a government it is now obvious that Belgium is going through one of the worst political crises of its 177 years of existence.
Yves Leterme received this morning before the deadline of 9 a.m. the answers of three parties to the three questions he had asked about constitutional reform on Friday evening. The two Flemish parties, the Christian democrat CD&V and the liberal VLD, both answered yes to all questions. So did the Walloon liberal MR.
But as was to be expected, the Walloon Christian democrats of CDH did not comply. Their party president Joëlle Milquet issued a statement shortly before noon. In it she did not answer Letermes questions, but put up three of her own. Indirectly they made clear that her party opted for a threefold no. Milquet also reminded the fact that earlier this week she had agreed with a proposal of Leterme, but that it was his own cartel partner, the Flemish nationalist NVA who torpedoed that breakthrough.
Leterme went tot the royal palace of Belvedere at 2 p.m. He left after half an hour. The palace issued a short statement in which it confirmed that Leterme had resigned as formateur and that king Albert had accepted his resignation. The Ypres politician who obtained 800.000 personal votes in Flanders in the election of June – the second best score ever -, read a short statement to the press on his return to parliament.
He said he had done everything he could to form a stable government. He regretted he had not succeeded, and added that he was still prepared to cooperate to other attempts. At 5 p.m. he went to a hastily convened meeting of his party in Zellik near Brussels , where he was received as a hero. One of the leading figures of CD&V, the former Flemish minister Eric Van Rompuy, the younger brother of the president of the Lower House, nevertheless said to journalists that ‘we are facing a deep crisis of the regime".
Yves Leterme was a first time formateur between the middle of July and the end of August. After his first failure his party colleague Herman Van Rompuy was sent out as scout to bring the negotiators back to the table. Five weeks later, on the 29th of September, King Albert sent Leterme back into the field.
In the first comments on the events it was a foregone conclusion that attempts to form an orange-blue coalition are to be given up, after a record negotiation of 174 days. But it will probably take a few days before we know what comes next.