Belgian Crisis: Desperate Attempts

Belgium’s king Albert II has formally asked the Flemish politician Yves Leterme (CD&V) to continue his attempts to form a government, in spite of this week’s complete breakdown in trust between the Flemish and the French-speaking parties that have negotiated unsuccessfully for 152 days to form a government that could find a majority in the Parliament.

The latest talk here is to form an “emergency government”, which will only have social and economic issues on its agenda but steer clear of any of the constitutional issues in which the current crisis in Belgium is rooted. However, the CD&V’s intended Flemish coalition partner, N-VA, has flatly rejected such an idea, and today, CD&V has joined the N-VA line.

N-VA was formed as an attempt to divide the Flemish national vote, which has seen the far-right if not right-extremist Vlaams Belang grow into one of the largest partis in Flanders. The N-VA is well aware that a too soft stance on Flemish nationalist issues will drive many voters back into the arms of Vlaams Belang, which has a very high-profile presence in its part of the country and can be said to be constantly campaigning. Vlaams Belang is openly secessionist and is hoping that the current Belgian crisis will lead to Flanders becoming an independent nation.

One scenario proposed by the De Morgen daily is for the N-VA to support the proposed coalition in Parliament without beng part of the government itself. This has been tried by the Swedish four-party centre-right coalition government of 1991-1994, which was depending on far-right populist party Ny Demokrati for a parliamental majority, a construction which proved instable and next to unworkable as the country’s financial crisis hit full force towards the end of the term.

Meanwhile, all the French political parties – both those involved in government formation talks as well as those who would be left out of the proposed government – will today for the first time invoke the so-called “Alarm bell procedure”, a legal quirk under which one of the country’s ethnic groups can freeze a decision taken by the other against its will. In this way, they hope to stall the implementation of Wednesday’s decision by the Flemish majority in the Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee to overrule the French-speakers and vote through a split of the constituency that encompasses the entire, mainly French-speaking Brussels as well as several Flemish areas including Halle and Vilvoorde.

French-speakers in the Flemish parts of this area fear that they will be unable to vote for French-speaking candidates, should the split go through, while the Flemings insist that the current situation gives the French-speakers disproportional influence. A constitution court has already ruled that the constituency is an anomaly compared to the rest of the country’s election system, and must be broken up, but the French-speaking Walloons have resisted implementing the decision.

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