Thursday, 21 October 2010

A wise man from the sea

After 130 days of political crisis King Albert appointed a new mediator on Thursday afternoon: Johan Vande Lanotte, former deputy prime minister and former president of the Flemish socialist party, the fifth largest group in Parliament. About this appointment the palace willingly neglected to consult the largest party and winners of the last elections, the Flemish nationalist.

Johan Van de Lanotte was called to the palace of Laeken in the early afternoon on Thursday. In a statement after the meeting at 4 pm the palace announced that he was appointed for ‘a mission of conciliation’. His first task is to figure out what the different scenarios that have been put on the table up to now for a new Finance Law will mean in terms of money for the different regions. For this he should consult experts of the National Bank and the Bureau du Plan.

Vande Lanotte, 55, and from the coastal city of Ostend, was deputy prime minister of Belgium for eight years, minister of the Interior for four and minister of the Budget for five. Besides he teaches Constitutional Law at the University of Ghent. But the main reason that he was appointed is probably that his party, the SPA (Flemish socialists), which he led between 2005 and 2007, is both Flemish and socialist and thus in between the main rivals in the negotiations, the Flemish nationalist NVA and the French-speaking socialists of the PS.

In a brief statement to the press after his appointment Vande Lanotte said that he would work in complete discretion and report a first time to the King on the 2nd of November. After that day it will become extremely difficult to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections before the end of the year. The next possibility is a dissolution of parliament early December.

The appointement of Vande Lanotte came after King Albert had consulted the presidents of six of the seven negotiating parties in the previous days. The last was Elio di Rupo of the French-speaking socialists who stayed three hours at the palace on Thursday morning. Bart De Wever, the leader of the Flemish nationalists, was no more consulted after he left the palace on Monday evening, where he had announced his resignation as ‘clarifier’. There had been no official statement of the palace about the end of his mission Monday.

Leading figures of the NVA said on Thursday evening they were ready to work with Vande Lanotte, but that the party was in no way consulted about the appointment. They added that the search for a seven party coalition – which Vande Lanotte has to revive -  had come to a dead end, not because of the lack of clear statistics, but because of the refusal of the PS to accept the necessary reforms for the country.

Earlier in the day the leader of the socialist trade union, Rudy De Leeuw, launched a frontal attack on the NVA. He accused the party of trying to promote neoliberal remedies through institutional reform and called all progressive parties to unite against the attack on the Belgian social model.

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