Thursday, 6 January 2011

Staring into the abyss

Royal negotiator Johan Vande Lanotte will report to King Albert II at 4:30 pm today. It is very much likely that he will hand in his resignation. The proposals he put on the table of the seven parties that want to form a new Belgian government were considered too much for the French-speaking parties and too few for the two main Flemish parties.
Vande Lanotte expected an answer to his proposals at Wednesday evening at the latest. The surprise came shortly after 6 pm when it was the Flemish Christian democrats who, after a meeting of the party bureau, handed in a ‘yes’, but with so many ‘fundamental points of critic’ that it was obviously more a ‘no’ than a ‘yes’. The CD&V of Wouter Beke wanted a new copy before the seven parties could be brought together again.
Shortly afterwards the Flemish nationalists of NVA took a similar point of view. Apparently CD&V and NVA had been in close touch with each other about their response to Vande Lanottes proposals. And although some Flemish Christian democrats – including the former Prime Minister Mark Eyskens - this morning on the radio voiced some concerns about the hard stand of their party, it is reported that Wouter Beke was pushed to do so by both the present Prime Minister Yves Leterme and the chief minister of the Flemish region Kris Peeters.
Besides the French-speaking socialists and Christian democrats yesterday also responded with a ‘yes’ with a large ‘but …’. Obviously both parties wanted to put up amendments against some of Vande Lanottes proposals that, in their opinion, went too far. They reflected what most of the French newspapers in Belgium had already concluded in the morning: the proposals were ‘too Flemish’.
The conclusion, although painful, is too self-evident: what the crucial French-speaking parties consider as going ‘too far’, is seen as ‘far from enough’ by the main Flemish parties. This means that in the present circumstances, and given the enormous intellectual effort that Vande Lanotte made to find the right balance, a classic Belgian short-term and willingly complicated compromise to cool off the tensions is no more in the cards. One may discuss the reasons of this, but not deny that fact. On the other hand everyone, including probably the Flemish nationalists, is afraid of a scenario of separation, as it is seen as a drive into unchartered lands.
No credulous proposals for getting out of the crisis, after 207 days, were at hand this morning. It is now, once again, to the king to seek a way out towards a new beginning.

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