Yves Leterme has given up attempts to form a government and resigned from his task yesterday (Saturday). 175 days after the election, the country is thus not only without a government, but back to square one – or even furtherback a few steps from there.
Mr Leterme could not unite the two Flemish and the two French-speaking parties in his proposed coalition , which remain as divided over liguistinc lines as they ever were before talks started. In the end, it was French-speaking Christian Democrat Joëlle Milquet who rejected Mr Leterme’s final offer, again dubbing her “Madame Non” as a previous refusal from her to accept Mr Leterme’s offers thwarted his previous attempt to patch the government together, a few months ago.
Thus, the Flemings are blaming the French-speakers for throwing the process back into chaos, but the French-speakers’ standpoint is that the Flemings are to blame for holding on too stubbornly to their demands for devoltion of federal powers into regional hands, which they fear will dry up the current federal funds that transfer money from the wealthier Flanders to the poorer French-speaking Wallonia, and eventually tempt the Flemings to break off and form their own country.
Everybody is now looking to the king, Albert II, for a solution, as the next step is formally for him to take. The odds are in favour of Didier Reynders, the leader of the French-speaking MR party and currently Minister of Finance, as the next person to try to form a government. However, the question is what he will form a government out of.
The general sentiment is that the centre-right coalition proposed so far, consisting of Mr Leterme’s CD&V, Ms Milquet’s CDH, Mr Reynders’ MR and the Flemish-nationalist N-VA, is dead. But there is little to replace it with.
Omitting ‘Madame Non’ and CDH would end up four seats short of a majority in Parliament for the remaining three partis, so they need another coalition partner. They have been in favour of taking in the French-speaking and Flemish speaking Green parties (as with most other partes, there are two parallel entities, one for each language group), but both Ecolo and Groen, as they are named, have already refused to help the CD&V-MR-N-VA lot.
The other main alternative would be to cross the left-right divide and bring in the Socialists, but that would neglect the outcome of the general election, which seemed to speak in favour of a swing to the right, and the CD&V-MR-N-VA group has so far rejected such ideas.
And even if Mr Reynders does manage to patch up a coalition, he will not get the CD&V on board unless he lets Mr Leterme become Prime Minister, the CD&V have stated. A government without CD&V would be unthinkable as they are the largest party in Parliament and generally seen as the winners of the election. But having Mr Leterme as Premier seems equally unthinkable, as he has now proven his incapacity to negotiate a solution that all involved will follow, and adding to his already vast lack of popularity among French-speakers, such an inability would cast serious doubts over his capabiliy to lead the country through whatever hard times may or may not lie ahead.
In other words: the country needs leadership, Mr Leterme has proven he can’t provide it, but the largest party insists that he takes the job or they won’t join a government.
Try sorting that mess out.