The surreal rollercoaster that is Belgian politics

A week ago I suggested that the ongoing attempt to form a Govenrnment in Belgium might actually be getting somwewhere. Royal Mediator, Johan Vande Lanotte had published a set of reform proposals and both the Flemish Green Party (Groen!) and the Flemish Socialists (SP.A) had reacted positively to them, saying that they were a good basis for negotiations.

There are seven parties involved in these coalition talks and I spoke way too soon. The three Francophone parties all said yes to continuing talks on the basis of Lanotte’s proposals so things were still looking positive for a while, but not for much longer.

First to put the boot in were the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V). The leader of the party, Wouter Beke gave a press conference saying that the CD&V would continue negotiations but only if changes are made to “essential points”. Helpfully he declined to spell out what those “essential points” might be.

And finally, the Flemish Nationalist (N-VA) drew up a list of “fundamental remarks” about the content and the scope of the proposals. They have circulated these remarks to the Mediator and the six other parties in order to establish whether the remarks can be taken on board by the other parties. If not, the negotiations are over.

The N-VA were the big winners at the election in June and are currently the biggest party in Belgium. So they can do things like this.

Clearly, these essential points and fundamental remarks could not be taken on board because, on Thursday Johan Vande Lanotte asked King Albert to relieve him of his task. In the announcement he made to the Belgian Senate, he said that he was willing to continue as mediator as long as he believed he could make progress but that this was no longer the case.

On Friday, N-VA leader, Bart De Wever hit the TV studios to say that his party and the Francophone Socialists (PS) – the other big winner last June – should take the lead in getting the negotiations back on track. He also claimed that the three Francophone parties had major reservations over Vanotte’s proposals, but waited for the CD&V and the NV-A to bring things to a halt before saying anything.

The PS were not impressed with De Wever’s suggestion. PS leader Elio Di Rupo asserted that the PS and the N-VA did not possess the necessary majority in parliament and that it was up to the N-VA and CD&V to come up with a set of proposals that the Francophone parties could accept.

In a slightly bizarre twist, SP.A leader, Caroline Gennez, suggested that the deadlock could be broken by including the liberals, thus expanding the number of parties involved from seven to nine. Alexander De Croo, leader of the Flemish Liberals (Open VLD) released a statement saying that the party is prepared to discuss the future of the country, but (probably wisely) do not want to be involved in the political talks just yet.

And yesterday, everything changed. Again. Johan Vande Lanotte is to stay in his job and will work with the N-VA and PS to rework his state reform proposals so that they form a viable basis for further discussions.

At this stage, it looks like the N-VA are ahead on points.

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