King Albert the Second announced Monday evening at 8:30 pm that he appointed Elio di Rupo, the leader of the French-speaking socialist party in Belgium, to be the 'formateur' of a new Belgian government.
As di Rupo is a key figure in the negotiations and the nomination of a 'formateur' is normally the last stage in the formation of a government, this might be a decisive step out of the deadlock that has been lasting for 337 days since the elections of June the 10th last year.
After di Rupo (59) and his Flemish nationalist counterpart Bart De Wever (40) stared each other for months into the eyes, matters came to a culmination last week. De Wever demanded that the king should appoint a 'formateur', which could be Mr. di Rupo, or should otherwise be himself.
He also demanded that an immediate choice should be made which six or seven parties should sit around the table, with a centre-right alliance in Flanders and a centre-left in French-speaking Belgium. That demand was rejected by di Rupo who preferred to start with no less than 9 parties in a grand 'national coalition' and with a less clear-cut title than 'formateur'.
The palace seems now in a slight authoritarian way to have put Mr. Di Rupo before the block: there would be a formateur, and either he would do it, or it would be De Wever. If it was di Rupo he would be able to keep up the scenario of 9 parties. There were some rumblings among the Flemish nationalists after di Rupo's appointment about the absence of clear coalition-choices, but these rumblings meanwhile have become a habit.
The fast move of the king obliges Mr. di Rupo to succeed. Failing twice - the first time was on the 3rd of September last year - will definitely kill his ambitions to become the next prime minister. He made a quite decisive impression when he explained his plans on a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. De Wever seems now in the comfortable position that he can wait and judge what Mr. di Rupo will have on offer. But his risk is that the new formateur offers proposals on decentralisation that can lure the traditional Flemish parties out of their up to now more or less unbreakable bond with the far greater nationalist party.
New is also that henceforth social and economic issues will be discussed in the negotiations, that up to now were completely neglected in talks that centred only on institutional reform. This means that after eleven months, the Belgian political parties are finally going to speak about the budget cuts 'for an amount of 17 to 20 billion Euros towards 2015' as Mr. di Rupo put it, and about reforms of the pension system, the migration policy, the justice system and the labour market, to name but these.
It is obvious that there is still a long way to go. But for the first time since many months some movement is detected again. Belgians live on hope.