Today, on the 174th day after the June 10th general elections in Belgium, Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christian-Democrats, told King Albert II that it is impossible for him to form a government. Belgium is a multinational country consisting of 6 million Dutch-speakers in Flanders and 4 million French-speakers in Wallonia. The Flemings want more regional autonomy, the Walloons oppose it because they are at the receiving end of the Belgian welfare mechanism.
Mr. Leterme won the elections because he went to the elections in an alliance with Flemish Nationalists and promised the Flemings that he would give Flanders more autonomy.
Last week Mr. Leterme, for the sake of the country’s reputation abroad, told the Walloon parties that he was willing to tone down on his Flemish demands in order to facilitate the formation of a government. Within a few hours he and the Walloon Christian-Democrats and Liberals had reached an agreement. This agreement, however, led to a rift within Leterme’s own alliance, where the Flemish Nationalists threatened to terminate their alliance with the Christian-Democrats (CD&V), form their own political group and join the opposition. Flemish public opinion also turned against the plans to tone down on Flemish demands. That prospect led Mr. Leterme to again adopt a tougher pro-Flemish position.
Yesterday Mr. Leterme asked the four parties with whom he is trying to form a coalition – the Flemish Christian-Democrats, the Flemish Liberals, the Walloon Christian-Democrats, and the Walloon Liberals (there are no national parties in Belgium and all parties are divided along linguistic lines) – to let him know by today if they agreed with three propositions:
1) There must be a debate about constitutional reform in which any and every issue can be discussed.
2) The regions will be allowed to lower corporate taxes. (This is a Flemish demand: The Flemish regional government wants to be able to lower regional corporate taxes even if the Walloon regional authorities do not follow.)
3) In order to obtain the two thirds majority needed to reform the Belgian Constitution the support of all parties is welcome. (This is also a Flemish demand: The Flemings want to be able to reform the state even if this means relying on the votes of Flemish secessionists.)
This morning the Flemish Christian-Democrats, the Flemish Liberals and the Walloon Liberals agreed to the three propositions, but the Walloon Christian-Democrats opposed them. Leterme then decided to give up his attempts to form a government.
Most Belgians are not worried about whether or not they will have a government soon. The general feeling is that the country is doing fine without a government. Why does anyone need one?
More on this issue here: Why the Eurocrats Fear the Belgian Anarchy (See list at end of article)