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.