If I were able to do any advanced web programming, I’d probably throw together some sort of web-based plagiarism of the famous Doomsday Clock by now, trying to predict how close Belgium is to its final moments as a unified nation.
Had I done so already, I had probably set it back a few minutes during the weekend, as it has seemed that the current governmental crisis would reach some sort of conclusion after all, or that the imminent threat of a split would be avoided. In an e-mail to a friend, I listed a few reasons why I thought it wouldn’t happen after all, and the signals from the negotiations have been mildly positive lately.
However, yesterday and today, I would have cranked such a clok forward a few minutes again, upon the news that the former Prime Minister of the regional government in Flanders, Yves Leterme, has been asked for the second time since the elections to form a national government. Last time, he utterly failed to persuade his French-speaking counterparts to agree on more devolution of powers to the regional assemblies, sending the formation of a national government crashing into a brick wall.
During the last month, his party colleaue Herman Van Rompuy has been appointed by the King to survey the situationm, and has held talks with everyone involved. On Saturday, he went to the King’s summer house in the Ardennes with his recommendation, which was to give Yves Leterme a second chance.
That means everything is basically back to square one. If Yves Leterme’s party CD&V backs down from its demands for more regional autonomy, which the Walloons fear is a way to break Flanders away by stealth, it will face widespread disappointment among its voters, because it went to the election promising to fight for just that. Moreover, one reason why they pushed that issue so hard was to defuse the openly Flemish nationalist and Flemish independence party Vlaams Belang. Backing off from its devolution demands will mean a real risk of voters being driven back into the arms of Vlaams Belang, meaning that the demands for regional autonomy or even an independent Flanders will return with a vengeance in the next general elections 2011, and make things even more difficult to master then.
On the other hand, if Yves Leterme and CD&V does not back down from those demands, there is a real risk that the Walloon parties will repeat their “Non” from last time, again making the formation of a government impossible.
“There is no agreement yet. There is not even any agreement yet to reach an agreement”, an unnamed negotiator sighs in De Standaard.
The latest talk has been that the parties that will be trying to stitch a government together will try to take the difficult issues in stages, solving them one by one as they go along. However, that is exactly the kind of stalling strategy that triggered the Swedish governmental crisis in 1994, when the unresolved issue of the Öresund bridge blew up in the coalition partners’ faces. And as for the trickiest of them all, the queston of the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde constituency, there is already a court order basically saying that that issue should have been resolved yesterday.
The only solutions would be to call a new election, which is unlikely since the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde fight probably makes that constitutonally impossible, or to split the country. Unless, that is, Yves Leterme is able to put together a patchwork of loosley connected ideas, conflicting agendas and barely compatible solutions into something that, with a few shovels of imagination, could pass for a programme.
But then again, that shouldn’t be impossible. After all… that’s exactly how Windows XP is constructed.