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.

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