Fourty eight days after he was appointed for the second time and 386 days after the last elections, Elio di Rupo, one of the winners last year, finally presented what looks like a reasonable and detailed proposal for a government program. The final round of the longest government negotiations ever in Belgium and the world seems now to have started.
Di Rupo, the leader of the French-speaking socialists and since May the 17th the ‘formateur’ of a new government, presented a note of 105 pages to King Albert this noon. At the same time he sent it to the presidents of eight other political parties (socialists, Christian democrats, liberals and greens on each side of the language border, and the Flemish nationalists).
The note was the result of seven weeks of talks about all pending issues for a new government: institutional reform, financial devolution, budget cuts, reform of the political and justice system, new migration policies. During the press conference he held for one hour and an half in the parliament from 5 pm onwards, it rapidly became clear that di Rupo had worked out a detailed proposal with surprisingly new and balanced ideas.
The unexpected new element was that for the first time he openly put some socialist taboos into question, among these the idea that unemployment benefits should not be decreasing in time. Automatic indexation of wages on the other hand was upheld, as was the age limit of 65 years to go into retirement.
In general the impression was that di Rupo had accepted the need for drastic changes – which up to now he did not seem to – but in a framework of upholding as much of the existing systems unchanged as possible, to make these survive. It is not a blistering new project for the country he proposed, but a realistic correction programm for the next three years. Given the rather good economic performances of Belgium the last one and a half year, it is a defendable choice, even if it will not be liked by those who hoped for a new beginning.
For the moment it is only the opening move in negotiations in which formally nine parties are invited to participate. Di Rupo gave them time until Thursday evening to come with a Yes or No. Most bets are on many ‘Yes, but’.