The negotiators have given themselves until November 7, after having an Autumn (Fall) break, to patch together a new Belgian government, the Flemish TV channel VRT reports. If there is no deal by then, the current attempts to form a new government will be abandoned.
The most difficult question of them all, that of the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde constutuency which the Flemish claim discriminate them and wants split (which the French-speakers oppose), has not yet been resolved, but is up for negotiation only by then. Thus, the constituency question may very well become the deal-breaker.
It will take some considerable courage by the French-speakers, whichever they decide. If they maintain their resistance to a split, they risk starting a chain of events that could break up the country, because there is little hope that there will be any majority in Parliament for a government composed of parties none of which insisting on the split. And a break-up of the country is rejected by an overwhelming majority of their own voters.
If they, on the other hand, do concede to a split of the constituency, they take a serious political risk of being bogged down in an ‘appeasement policy’ debate among their own voters, and may risk their seats in the next election. Emerging as The Ones Who Saved The Country would be their only hope to avoind being branded as traitors, and it is a risky game to play.
For the Flemish, the stakes are high too. They must push ahead with insisting on a split, in order to avoid radicalising their own. The latest election was largely an attempt to divide the Flemish nationalists and split their votes in order to weaken the ultra-right (if not right-wing extremist) Vlaams Belang, an atempt wich partly succeeded. However, shold the current election winners on the Flemish side prove incapable of furthering the Flemish interests, many voters will likely be driven back into the arms of Vlaams Belang.
The Flemish are, at best, indifferent to breaking up the country. Only a small majority oppose it, and most people seem virtually indifferent: they think it will all be for the best either way. This is a remarkable contrast to the flag-waving neo-Belgicism of the French-speakers, which seems to be growing – or is at least becoming increasingly visible – every day.
The next few weeks ma become very interesting indeed.