Negotiations for a new Belgian government have been suspended until the middle of August. This decision was taken last week after what may start to begin to look maybe like a small breakthrough. But we shall have to wait until about day 428 after the elections to have confirmation that this little hope materializes.
Two weeks have passed since the Flemish nationalists rejected the proposals of ‘formateur’ Elio di Rupo for starting real negotiations about a new government. Shortly after the njet of the NVA di Rupo handed in his resignation, but king Albert refused to accept it. Immediately afterwards the formateur started to act again as if nothing had happened.
The crucial question now was to see if the Flemish Christian-democrats (CD&V), who had accepted di Rupo’s proposals with some amendments, but refused to sit around the table without the nationalists, could be lured into the negotiations again. After two weeks of extreme slow movements of progress on all sides the eight parties that try to get around the same table, accepted to do so on the National Day of July the 21st, including CD&V.
The base to start to talk is a proposal of di Rupo to give some way to CD&V, without chasing the francophone parties away. The demand of the president of CD&V, Wouter Beke, to accept the law-proposals he made a few months earlier as chief negotiator to split up the electoral district of Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde, was met. And the correcting proposals to appease the French-speaking parties that di Rupo had written in his proposal, were put into some commissions to be ‘studied’.
CD&V can now tell that they have obtained the split-up of BHV without compensation, and that no other negotiation will start until this agreement is fully worked out. But none of the French-speaking parties is ready to confirm this point of view openly, nor does Mr. di Rupo. And of course there is nothing said yet about the global institutional reform or the huge budget cuts that still have to be made.
One day after the breakthrough on National Day di Rupo announced that negotiations would be held by technicians in the next week and would then be suspended until the 15th of August. Apparently the exhaustion of his own staff after 400 days was a big element in this decision. Others said it was a sign that di Rupo did not want to take the risk of a failure in the weeks where it is almost impossible to bring parliament back to vote its own dissolution. Still others regretted the momentum towards a breakthrough may now be lost, especially since the Flemish nationalists seemed for the first time quite isolated after their brutal refusal.
Bart De Wever and the fellow-nationalists have in the meantime bitterly complained about what they describe as the U-turn of their former Christian democrat allies. The French-speaking media on the other hand attribute the beginning of a breakthrough largely to the tv-speech that King Albert II held on the 20th of July. It’s a tradition that he does so one day before National Day and it is as much a tradition that he gives a boring speech, full of general and good intentions.
But this the time the 77-year old King showed openly impatience with the politicians, called in Walter Bagehot to warn them that this could not go on like this, and repeatedly knocked his fist onto the table. He also pointed to the European crisis that was coming to a head with an extra summit in Brussels on Belgium’s National Day.
It was quite a strong communication performance, very unusual for the Belgian as well as any monarchy. But to see if it worked we will have to wait until the middle of August, when the King will also return from a well-deserved holiday.