Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme appears to have won a stay of execution for his government, but the country remains threatened with disintegration in a row over linguistic differences.
After a procedural battle with a confused House in a state of high tension a majority of deputies backed the premier’s move to delay any further debate to allow the 2008 budget to be passed.
However Leterme’s own party, the Flemish Christian Democrats immediately filed a motion to renew its push to stop French-speakers around the capital from voting for French-speaking members of parliament.
The motion will be debated again in a week’s time unless the prime minister can persuade French speaking parties to accept their demand to split the region around Brussels. The conflict is spilling out on to the streets with bilingual roadsigns being defaced signifying growing animosity beteen the two sides.
The dispute centres on Flemish and French speaking sectors of the community. Nationally Flemish MPs outnumber their French colleagues in the Belgian parliament, guaranteeing the success of any vote.
The legislation being sought, which the Dutch speaking Flemish majority could force through parliament, would strip tens of thousands of French speakers of the right to vote.