Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Menage à trois

King Albert reappointed Johan Vande Lanotte in the late afternoon to seek a way out of the political crisis in Belgium. He will have to work ‘in close collaboration with the leaders of the two greatest parties’, Bart De Wever and Elio di Rupo. On Monday King Albert had already asked outgoing Prime Minister Yves Leterme to take the ‘necessary budgetary measures’ to calm down the financial markets.
Johan Vande Lanotte, the former president of the Flemish socialist party (SPA), arrived this afternoon at 5 pm at the palace of Laeken. Last Thursday, on his 77th day as a royal negotiator, he had handed in his resignation to the King, after he seemingly had failed to reach an agreement about starting negotiations about the proposal of 62 pages that he had submitted to seven parties (the Flemish nationalist NVA, the two socialist, Christian democratic and green parties).
The King had not accepted the resignation, but had kept it ‘into consideration’. Vande Lanotte was expected to come back on Monday afternoon. But the meeting was postponed, as he had made up new contacts with the two main antagonists, Elio di Rupo and Bart De Wever. Late on Monday Vande Lanottes old mother, who’s fragile and deteriorating health situation had already caused a few delays in the negotiations, passed away in a hospital in Ypres. Although it was feared that the outgoing royal negotiator would not be able to go the palace Tuesday afternoon, he finally arrived at the moment announced.
 Afterwards the palace issued a statement in which it said that the King had asked Vande Lanotte ‘to take every useful initiative, in a special dialogue with the presidents of the two largest parties, in order to end the present political impasse as soon as possible. Only in this way the well-being of our citizens and of the country will be preserved.’
Later in the evening it was revealed that Vande Lanotte will continue to work on the basis of his proposal, but that De Wever and di Rupo will lead the negotiations with the Flemish and the French-speaking parties around the table respectively. The three will meet on Wednesday to work out their mission.
The new twist in the negotiations came after days of political confusion, in which Bart De Wever proposed to take the lead alone or together with Elio di Rupo, in which di Rupo refused this, but made an unclear opening towards the liberals, in which the French-speaking liberals reacted eagerly, the Flemish ones hesitantly, in which finally everyone seemed more or less to accept the scenario of the seven parties again.
Besides it became obvious on Monday that the financial markets had now put Belgium into the category of major-risk countries of the Eurozone, due to its huge global debt and its political crisis. Interest rates of Belgium government bonds were steadily rising. King Albert therefore issued a statement asking the caretaking prime minister Yves Leterme and his government to take all necessary budgetary measures to keep up financial credibility. The government will meet on this Wednesday morning.
The new scenery that King Albert and his ever creative advisers have put up is a well-considered way to make no choice between the options of De Wever and di Rupo, and nevertheless to make both bear more responsibility, without throwing away all the work Vande Lanotte has patiently achieved.
The biggest problem that might arise is the unspoken ambitions to become prime minister of each of the three. Di Rupo still wants, but has taken a lot of damage in his credibility the last few weeks. De Wever seems eager again, although he has continuously denied this. And Vande Lanotte is probably also hoping, but without having too much illusions. He will need lots of luck, as soon as he has carried his revered mother to her final place of rest.

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