Belgium's King Albert has called for urgent talks in an attempt to hold the nation's government together following the collapse of the ruling coalition and Prime Minister Yves Leterme's resignation.
REUTERS - Belgian King Albert sought to resolve a standoff between Dutch- and French-speaking parties on Friday and revive Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s government.
Leterme, 49, tendered his resignation on Thursday after his five-month-old coalition collapsed, but the king did not immediately accept, hoping to avoid a crisis that could damage the fragile economy and Belgium’s standing in Europe.
Belgian media said King Albert effectively had until Monday, when party officials meet to set parliament’s agenda, to persuade the Flemish liberal party, Open VLD, to return to the government. The ruling coalition groups five parties from centre-left to centre-right.
Open VLD said it had lost faith in the coalition over a failure to resolve a dispute between French- and Dutch-speaking parties over electoral boundaries around the capital, Brussels. But it subsequently opened the door to a return.
« If we are strict about a certain deadline ... then that is something we would consider, » Open VLD chief Alexander De Croo told Belgian television on Thursday evening.
If Leterme cannot revive his government, then dissolving parliament and calling elections within 40 days appears the only remaining option.
Political commentators said it was unclear what would happen next.
The Flemish newspaper De Morgen called the impasse unparallelled even by the fractious standards of Belgium, which perennially struggles to reconcile the demands of the wealthier, Dutch-speaking Flemish north and the minority French-speaking Walloons in the south.
Economists are concerned that political paralysis in the country of 10.6 million people could harm efforts to bring its national debt back below 100 percent of gross domestic product.
GDP fell 3.0 percent last year and is likely to grow a modest 1.0 percent in 2010. The budget deficit for this year is put at 4.8 percent of GDP.
Leterme’s nine-month struggle to form a coalition after the 2007 election prompted media speculation that Belgium would break apart. This is Leterme’s second term as prime minister and the third time he has tendered his resignation.
Leterme’s Flemish Christian Democrats have pledged to devolve more powers to Flanders, a continued demand of Dutch-speakers, but face opposition from French-speakers who fear losing out.
Francophone newspapers expressed dismay at the actions of the Flemish liberals, and wondered if Belgium was nearing the end of its 180-year existence.
« Bye-Bye Belgium » was the headline in the francophone newspaper La Derniere Heure.
« Does this country still make sense? » asked Le Soir, concluding that it did still believe in Belgium, but that its view was only valid if a large number of Belgians felt the same.
« If the grave crisis of yesterday persists, it will be the sign that this wish no longer exists. Unfortunately, that was the feeling that prevailed yesterday, » it said.
Date created : 2010-04-24