The political stakes have been raised in Belgium as marathon coalition talks reach a critical stage. Nearly five months after June’s general election, the Dutch-speaking Flemish parties say that unless there is progress on greater regional control, they will use their parliamentary majority to force through boundary changes around bilingual Brussels.
The president of the Flemish liberals, Bart Somers, says: “If we can agree a government by Wednesday evening, on all the points, apart from the budget and federal issues, then all the parties will be motivated to find a solution to the wider federal issues. We have a very important task ahead of us – laying the groundwork for a plan that all parties will be able to accept. We can’t continue to go around in circles.”
The Flemish and French-speaking Christian Democrats and Liberals have made some progress in talks led by would-be prime minister Yves Leterme most notably on justice, immigration, the environment and foreign relations.
But they remain divided over the budget and the emotive issue of regional devolution. Flare-ups like this demonstrate just how deep the divisions are. Flemish extremists vented their fury last week on francophone politicians who used French at council meetings in the Flanders region of Brussels.
On Tuesday, Belgium marks 142 days without a government. The 1988 record of 148 days looks set to be broken if the political stalemate continues into next week.