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
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