Belgium still without government, new record set

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A voter during the federal elections of June 10, 2007. 149 days later, there is still no new coalition.

After federal elections on June 10, 2007, coalition talks in Belgium have still failed to result in compromises on the main electoral issue. The previous record from 1988 was broken today after 149 days without a new government.

Christian Democrat Yves Leterme won the elections in Flanders together with his nationalistic coalition partner, and they promised more powers for the Dutch-speaking majority. Wallonian parties however remain reluctant to give in to unilateral demands and are asking for symbolic gestures and compromises in symbolic debates over the electoral district of Brussels and Halle-Vilvoorde.

Flemish politicians argue that the time is high to split the district now, because a high court ruling from 2003 found the district unconstitutional. But their counterparts believe that everything works in two directions in Belgium, and unilateral demands have no place in a federal state.

Some progress has been made in such areas as economical reforms, but the key debate of the elections lingers on. More than ever, the future of Belgium as a federal state is at stake, although immediate independence of the economically flourishing Flemish region is not currently being discussed by the negotiators.

On Wednesday, a commission of the Flemish parliament will vote on the topic of voting rights in Brussels, and it is expected that this will again stress Flanders' call for progress on autonomy for the region. Walloon Christian-Democrat Joelle Milquet, already dubbed Madame Non (Madame No) in Flanders because of her refusal to set aside her electoral promises to her constituency, warned during the weekend that such a move would be perceived as hostile, and that she would leave the negotiations table.

Candidate Prime Minister Yves Leterme has called for unity last Friday: "It's time for government negotiators to assume their responsibility in the national interest. It's time to stop mutual provocations." Many Walloons perceive Leterme as a defender of Flemish rather than Belgian values, as a notorious quote marking the Wallonians as intellectually incapable of learning Dutch, haunts him.

Political map of Belgium showing Dutch-speaking Flanders (yellow), French-speaking Wallonia (red), German-speaking area (blue striped) and bilingual Brussels Capital Region.

Belgium is a federal state made up of some 6 million Dutch-speaking citizens in the north and some 4.5 million French-speaking inhabitants south of the language border. Brussels is bilangual, and there is a minuscule German-speaking community.

With no new coalition to follow them, the previous ruling parties continue to meet under former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt on a regular basis to make a few straightforward but necessary decisions, to avoid too many complications of the enduring political vacuum.


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