Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Negotiations between Flemish and French-speaking parties for a new government seem to have reached a breakthrough on Tuesday evening with an agreement on the principles of a new Finance Law. But one day later different lectures appeared in the press, on an agreement of which there is no written version
Shortly before 7 pm on Thursday the 24th, news got out that 'preformateur' Elio di Rupo (smiling on this belga-picture, taken shortly after the end of the meeting) and the presidents of the seven political parties that try to form a government had reached an agreement after seven hours of intense discussions at the cabinet of the outgoing under-minister Melchior Wathelet in the rue de la Loi. As the odds had been very bad, there was rapidly a sense of euphoria spreading when the news came out.
The Finance Law that regulates the distribution of money between the federal and regional authorities is indeed the core of each institutional reform. It had been the most difficult issue in the government negotiations up to now. An agreement, even if only about the principles, means that the main hurdle towards a compromise between Flemish and French-speaking communities has been taken. Formal negotiations – up to now the talks have only been informal – could start maybe as soon as next week. Optimists saw a government in the making before the end of September.
Hours after the agreement details emerged. It became clear that twelve principles were agreed about the Finance Law, linking more fiscal responsibility for the regions to the upholding of all forms of solidarity. Most commentators noted that many of these principles are contradictory and have to specified.
Besides, as the agreement of Tuesday is, like all the previous ones, not on paper yet, it became clear Wednesday morning that different versions were leaked to the Flemish and French-speaking press, with differences on quite important elements and different kind of comments. According to the Flemish negotiators, who felt most in need of defending themselves afterwards, the details of the agreement will be worked out before the end of the global negotiations.
On Wednesday and tomorrow the negotiators were to tackle the highly symbolic issue of the electoral district of Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde, the issue on which the previous government of Yves Leterme fell apart (see this blog on September the 6th 2007, nothing has changed about this question since). Although the issue remains thorny, it was expected that ‘preformateur’ di Rupo – who has been praised for the way he lead the negotiations the last few weeks – would be capable to solve it, by linking it to extra subsidies for the Brussels region.
If that will be the case towards the end of the week, the institutional negotiations – that have lasted two months – can give way for government negotiations about the reduction of the budget deficit of 25 billion euro towards 2015. As this is a global amount for all the authorities in Belgium – from the villages and cities to the federal level – it is inevitable that the issue of the Finance Law will come up once again.