Belgium’s king Albert II has given two of the main parties involved in the current struggle to form a government one week to come up with a proposal that will include suggestions on how to crack the trickiest nut of them all, the queston of the federal versus regional relations.
Herman Van Rompuy (CD&V) and Armand De Decker (MR), who not only come from opposite sides of the language divide but also happen to be the Speakers of the Belgian Parliament’s Chamber of Representatives and Senate respectively, are thus asked to come up with something that almost 160 days of haggling has not. All formal negotiations will remain idle while awaiting the outcome of the two gentlemen’s discussions.
It is not clear, however, what the king will do if they fail.
They, in turn, have already stated that they want to set up a council of heavyweight politicians to solve the relational issues, which would be yet another way of burying the issue under a pile of procrastination: such a council would work for years, and perhaps take up to three governmental terms to reach any conclusions, it is reported today.
The question remains whether or not that will be a workable solution. A similar idea of rallying “wise men” around the same issues was rejected during the last few days by several of the parties involved, and given the heavy pressure from the Flemish politicians on a local level, it is difficult to see how they would be able to wait for so long for an outcome. More importantly, the question remains on how on Earth to hold the next general elections before the question of the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde constituency has been solved.
Mr De Decker believes that there will be a government in place before the end of the year, and the king remains equally optimistic. However, others are less convinced, and in either case, the quesiton is where all this will leave the once designated incumbent Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who is now literally watching from the sidelines how others are doing the job he was appointed to do.
It will be very difficult indeed for Mr Leterme to step up and take the reins of someone else’s negotiated agreement, especially since he appears not to be part of the Van Rompuy-De Decker round at all.
I certainly would not accept the top job on those terms.