Thursday, 27 January 2011

Square one again

King Albert II will start consultations again today about the way to form a new Belgian government.  The attempt to make a centre-left coalition of seven parties finally collapsed yesterday after 227 days of negotiations.
For the second time this month the royal negotiator Johan Vande Lanotte (picture) offered his resignation to king Albert on Wednesday at 4:30 pm. This time the king accepted. Vande Lanotte, who had been appointed 97 days ago, explained in a press conference afterwards that ‘too few progress had been possible.’
When Vande Lanotte met with the three participating French-speaking parties together on Tuesday (socialists, Christian-democrats and greens) they refused to take any new initiative if the Flemish parties did not make a proposal first. During his talks with the four Flemish parties on Wednesday (the same three ideologies and the Flemish nationalists), Vande Lanotte saw the Christian democrats bringing in such a new proposal. But as it contained a far reaching devolution of health policies, it was unacceptable for the French-speaking parties.
Most press comments this morning agree that the seven-party-formula is now dead. It was started immediately after the elections of June the 13th last year in the belief that a stable federal government should ‘mirror’ the composition of the regional governments that were set up after the regional elections of June 2009.  Taken together the seven parties also had a two third majority necessary to realise constitutional reforms. Since the end of August 2010 the seven parties never again sat together around the table (about the deeper reasons behind the stalemate, see previous blogs: A tale of impotence;,Old quarrel, new twist 1 and 2).
King Albert will now probably explore the few options left. The most likely is that he will send out a French-speaking liberal: Didier Reynders, the finance minister, or Louis Michel, the former minister of Foreign Affairs. The liberals have stayed out of the negotiations up to now, as they had lost the elections and the French-speaking socialists of the PS had systematically excluded them.
The formula’s to try are but a few. The French-speaking parties advocate a coalition without the Flemish nationalists of the NVA, the big winner of the elections. That would then most likely be a coalition of the three traditional parties (liberals, socialists, Christian-democrats) of both sides of the language divide. But they do not have a two third majority, and it is highly unlikely that the Flemish Christian democrats will enter into a government without the NVA.
Another option might be a government without the two winners of the elections, who have spoiled their own victory by standing aside and waiting for so long (for whatever reason). It would be another seven-party-coalition of Christian democrats, liberals, greens and the Flemish socialists (who would then have to propose the prime minister). Together these parties have only 83 of the 150 seats in the Lower house, a coalition with a thin majority that could develop a socio-economic policy, but no institutional reforms.
So it is more and more likely that new elections will be the outcome. If so, the big question to answer is  if the Flemish nationalists will opt for an independent Flanders as their main proposal, or just will try to obtain an absolute majority in Flanders in close link with the Christian-democrats.

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