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King names new mediator to break deadlock

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-10-21

King Albert II of Belgium has tasked Flemish socialist senator Johan Vande Lanotte (pictured left) with bringing about "conciliation" between feuding political parties, four months on from deeply divisive elections.

REUTERS - Belgium's King Albert turned to the former leader of the Flemish socialists on Thursday to end more than four months of deadlock over forming a new government.

Johan Vande Lanotte, a former interior minister, budget minister and ex-head of his party, has been given a "mission of conciliation" with an initial task of rebuilding trust between potential coalition partners, the palace said in a statement.

The appointment of Vande Lanotte, 55, follows a series of stalled talks and rejected proposals from the head of the Flemish separatist N-VA, which won the most seats in the June election, and the leader of the French-speaking socialists.

The latest failure came when parties from the French-speaking part of Belgium rejected a blueprint for the future of the country drafted by N-VA leader Bart De Wever, prompting bitter exchanges between would-be allies.

Vande Lanotte must seek a balance between Flemish calls for more powers for Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking concern that further devolution is a step towards the break-up of Belgium, which they oppose.

Recent polls have shown that only a small minority of Belgians, even in Flanders where separatists won 45 percent of the vote, want Belgium to split. [ID:nLDE6860DS] [ID:nLDE698058]

The palace said Vande Lanotte should seek to find common ground between the parties based on discussions and proposals to date and with the help of the central bank and the government's economic forecast agency, the federal planning bureau.

No timeframe was set for Vande Lanotte's mission.

Previously, De Wever and Elio Di Rupo, head of the strongest party in French-speaking Belgium, the socialists, and other members of their parties have failed to break the stalemate.

Vande Lanotte at least belongs to a different party.

Some Belgian newspapers said at the start of the week that a new election was looking increasingly likely, with the king possibly making a last bid to spare Belgians from another vote.

"I wouldn't say it's necessarily the last chance. It looked like it was over two weeks ago," said Dave Sinardet, politics professor at universities in Brussels and Antwerp.

"With Vande Lanotte at least you have someone with a lot of experience, in general and with state reform. Sometimes these nominations are a smokescreen or a facade. Vande Lanotte may well have a more active role."

Vande Lanotte, a legal expert who has also taught at universities, was in 2006 named a "Minister of State", a title bestowed by the king for public service, typically to political statesman such as former prime ministers.

Belgium needs a government to contain a debt-to-annual output (GDP) ratio that is the third highest in Europe and forecast to rise above 100 percent next year, although a caretaker administration has bought some time with a relatively benign budget deficit of 4.8 percent of GDP this year.

Date created : 2010-10-21

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