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.

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