Belgian Chamber of Representatives backs interim government

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Yesterday, the interim Federal Government of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt received the confidence of the Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of the Belgian Federal Parliament. The interim Federal Government is the third government headed by the Flemish liberal Guy Verhofstadt and was formed after talks to form a centre-right government of Christian democrats and liberals following the federal election of June 10 failed.

The new government is the first Belgian Federal Government that includes Flemish and French-speaking parties belonging to different political families. The asymmetrical coalition includes the Flemish liberals of Open Vld, the French-speaking liberals of the MR, the Flemish Christian democrats of CD&V, the French-speaking Christian democrats of CDH and the French-speaking socialists of the PS. The Flemish socialists are not included in the government, nor is the N-VA, CD&V's Flemish-nationalist partner, however, the N-VA does support the coalition.

Of the 144 Representatives present during the vote of confidence, 97 voted in favour, 46 voted against and one abstained. The parties that voted in favour were CD&V/N-VA, Open Vld, PS, MR and CDH. Vlaams Belang, SP.A-Spirit, LDD, Ecolo and Green! voted against and heavily criticised the new interim Federal Government and its programme. Symbolically, Sarah Smeyers of the N-VA abstained during the vote. The N-VA had announced in advance that one of its members would abstain in order to demonstrate that institutional reform remains a priority for them.

The fourteen ministers of the interim Federal Government were sworn in by King Albert II on Friday, after which Mr Verhofstadt outlined his government's programme in the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate. Extraordinarily, the Chamber of Representatives met on Sunday to debate Mr Verhofstadt's declaration and to vote on a motion of confidence.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has stated that there should be a permanent Federal Government under the leadership of Yves Leterme, the Flemish Christian democrat who emerged as the winner of the federal election of June 10, by Easter.

The interim Federal Government will concentrate primarily on social and economic issues, while Mr Leterme, who is a Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Budget in the new government, will attempt to prepare the ground for institutional reforms, an important part of CD&V/N-VA's platform during the campaign for the federal election.

Observers have noted the lack of enthusiasm for the interim government. Many fear that it may be overshadowed by tensions between the parties in the coalition as they try to negotiate institutional reforms, including more regional autonomy, an issue on which the Flemish and the French-speaking parties are divided. This is one of the reasons earlier attempts by Mr Leterme to form a Federal Government failed.

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