Belgian Crisis: Soon It’ll Start All Over Again

Belgium’s interim Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, has announced that he will hand over power to the controversial Flemish politician Yves Leterme on March 20.

That is three days early, but Mr Verhofstadt – who lost the election last year – believes that he has fulfilled his obligations to take the country out of the immediate rut by then.

However, today, just one full month before the handover, it is still unclear exactly which parties will be part of the new government, let alone which ministers it will consist of. Mr Leterme’s primary coalition partner, Francophone Liberal Didier Reynders, is out shopping around among the various political groupings as we speak, but there is not yet any firm commitment of whatsoever among any number of parties that could form a majority in Parliament.

In other words… here we go again.

Verhofstadt For President?

Gearing up for the election of a new President of the European Commission next year, the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is emerging as a candidate who might have strong support.

Little has been said so far in public about whom the member states will appoint to head the EU’s executive body (there are no public elections to this powerful entity), and the current holder of the function. José Manuel Barroso, is expecting re-election.  But now, it seems that three-time Premier Verhofstadt might be one of the favourites.

Mr Verhofstadt, a Liberal, enjoys the backing of the Socialist party group in the EU Parliament, Metro writes quoting Le Soir, and the group, second largest in the EU Parliament with 215 out of 785 seas, is hoping to forge a centre-left coalition to support his candidacy. Mr Verhofstadt’s ideological friends, the Parliament’s liberal group, seem less enthusiastic, but will not rule out supporting him.

We shall see what will happen once the mightier movers of the Union such as the French and German governments have put forward their opinion, and Mr Verhofstadt himself has not commented or disclosed if he would be available as a candidate at all. But holding together the increasingly disparate nation of Belgium under the recent crisis might prove good exercise for anyone who would want to make 27 nations pull the same direction.

Why Can’t They Sleep Like Normal People?

Over the next few days, you’ll probably hear about your usual politicians’ heroic efforts to fight for your country’s interests late through the night at the upcoming EU summit, which starts Thursday, and where 27 heads of state and government are to fight over a new EU Constitution sorry, treaty no not really, er, additional treaty, or what was it we were going to call it so as not to offend anyone?

Anyway. It’s all fine and dandy that they work hard. What I can’t understand is why they have to go on and on into the night.

It probably looks very heroic and macho to say that “we fought into the wee hours, and we beat the others at about half past four because we were the only ones able to stay awake” et cetera ad nauseam. But then you should know that they don’t even start the meeting until 17.00 (5pm).

Serious. It’s always like that. They drop in around 5pm in the biggest flood of motorcades you’ve seen (tip: if you’re planning a traffic offense in Belgium, try Thursday-Friday, because I can guarantee you that there isn’t a motorcycle policeman anywhere else in the whole country). An hour later, it’s time for the famous “family photo”, where they all line up for a pic – and which is a common source of bickering over who gets to stand where, thus able to be percieved as more important, and who gets to join in last, thus able to be percieved as more important.

(The image shown here is the “family photo” from the last summit, in March, happily nicked from the German Presidency’s web site. If you are able to count to more than 27 people on this picture, you’re right, since a wide selection of foreign ministers and other similar types of people usually join them. I can’t decide if Angela Merkel is either trying to conduct everyone into place, pushing back Jan-Peter Balkenende for getting too intimate, waving farewell to Jacques Chirac as this was his last summit, or if she’s simply praying for Mr Chirac. Romano Prodi, who used to head the EU Commission but now tries to steer Italy, poor chap, seems like he’s made enough friends during his EU years to share a few jokes. Guy Verhofstadt is obviously pondering whether or not he remembered to tie his shoes, Tony Blair has his eyes fixed on the exit already, and Fredrik Reinfeldt looks like he’s thinking “can we please just get on with it so I can go to the bathroom?”)

Anyway. Only then do they get down to some serious business, and of course that takes forever and a day. The day after, they’re actually supposed to be finished around late lunchtime.

Now, you have to remember that most of the hard work is usually carried out by their ambassadors and their delegations in advance. But still – a time schedule like this is astonishing. Why can’t they get to work at nine o’clock in the morning like ordinary people do? Would that look too bland? Like you’d notice, given the blandness of the rest of the EU?

The latest gossip here in Brussels is that they’ll have to extend the summit into the weekend as well, because they probably won’t be able to agree. Well, fellas, maybe you could have avoided that if you’d got started a little earlier.