In less than ten minutes on Thursday afternoon Bart De Wever, the leader of the Flemish nationalists, shot down almost all the proposals his counterpart Elio di Rupo made three days ago, in the first serious attempt to propose a government program. After 390 days Belgium is back to square one.
De Wever had called for a press conference in a meeting room of the Flemish Parliament at 2 pm. Up to Thursday-morning only the two liberal parties had answered ‘yes but’ to the proposals the ‘formateur’, Elio di Rupo, had made on Monday. As soon as the press conference of the Flemish nationalists (NVA) was announced the five remaining parties that have been invited to the government negotiations also announced a conditional approval for di Rupo’s text.
The Flemish Christian first announced a press conference, then canceled it because of the announcement of the NVA-press conference. Finally their president Wouter Beke came out of the party headquarters at 1 pm to say that his party was ready to negotiate but would not do so if the NVA would not participate.
The last element was exactly the message that De Wever delivered one hour later, in a quite strong-worded statement in which he criticised almost every element of di Rupo’s proposal. And he summarized: ‘With the best will of the world, I cannot believe that negotiations on this base will end up in success.’
The announcement sent shock waves through the political scenery in Belgium. Many accused De Wever of fleeing his responsibilities as largest party of the country. Some suggested that a coalition without NVA should be formed. But as the Flemish Christian democrats confirmed that they would not enter into a government without the nationalists, it was clear that such a government would have a very weak position in Flanders.
New elections are now the most logical outcome, although it is at the moment far from certain that there can be found a majority in the Lower House to vote for an early dissolution. Elio di Rupo meanwhile declined to react to the new situation. He will only come out with a statement Friday.