21 september 2008

A Royal visit

It’s a beautiful, sunny autum day in the city of Ghent. More than 150 000 people are expected today to watch a historical procession. One of the spectators will be our king: Albert II. An interresting coincidens because while the performers are putting on their costumes, a few meters away in an adjacent building the political party N-VA is holding its congress, that is very likely to mean the end of the Belgian government. This means the political crisis that is dragging on for 15 months now, is still far from over. While the king sees the procession passing by with old kings, emperors and long forgotten gods, I wonder if he will think about his own fate. Will he be able to prevent his kingdom from crumbling?

King Albert II

After the elections in June 2007, it took 6 months to form an interim government. In March 2008, the real government took over. But when that government failed to reach an agreement about the reform of the Belgian federal state, our Prime minister Yves Leterme offered his resignation to the king last July. The king refused to accept this resignation and appointed 3 negotiators who had to get all governing parties around the table again.

Those 3 wise men, as the press called them, presented their report last Wednesday. The negotiations had to start whit a “blank sheet of paper”, without taboos or conditions. Dutch and French-speaking politicians could each send a delegation of 6 negotiators. The talks would have to start when “the time is right”. Each language group has to appoint its own negotiators and those negotiators would have to agree on what topics would be discussed and when the talks were to be held. So basically, after 15 months of negotiations all we have is a blank sheet of paper.

The elections of 2007 were won in Flanders by an alliance between the Flemish Christian-democratic party CD&V, and the Flemish nationalist party N-VA. They promised they wouldn’t join a federal government for as long as an agreement about the reform of the state had not been reached. 15 months later, all they have to show their electorate is a blank sheet of paper. With regional and European elections coming up in June 2009, that’s not a very comfortable situation to be in. So when the N-VA declared today that they would no longer support the Belgian government, that hardly came as a surprise. The government is now no longer supported by a majority of the Flemish MP’s. Theoretically, that shouldn’t be a problem. The government still has the support of an overwhelming majority of the Francophone MP’s. But it is highly unlikely that the CD&V will remain in a government that will be seen as an “anti-Flemish government” by the Flemish opposition.

Next week, the CD&V will hold a congress. Right now, the situation changes every minute and no one can now for sure what will happen, be it looks like the CD&V will decide there that they will leave the federal government.

The Castle of the Count in Ghent

So what will happen next? New elections would seem a logical decision, but they are not likely to change anything. Elections now, would mean new negotiations while the campaign for the regional elections will be in full swing. That’s not going to make it easier. Moreover, opinion polls suggest that most voters didn’t change their minds and would vote for the same party as last year. New elections would also be contested in court, after the constitutional court deemed the current electoral law unconstitutional. But what is the alternative? Letting the current stale mate linger on until the regional elections in June, doesn’t really sound like a better scenario. In the mean time, both the regional governments and the European institutions keep doing their jobs and consequences of this crisis for the daily life of the Belgians seem to be fairly limited. So all the Belgian government seems to be doing, is proving their own irrelevance.

The king has a lot on his mind these days. But today is no day for worries. He might as well enjoy visiting his kingdom, for as long as he still has one.


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