Belgium heads deeper into the unknown with the caretaker Prime Minister for 15 months, Yves Leterme, quitting to take another job.
King Albert has warned that the country’s economic future and position in Europe might be damaged.
He said he was shattered by the longest absence of government in human memory, and:
“I would not be true to my role if I failed to solemnly remind everyone of the risks posed to all Belgians by a long crisis.”
Head of Belgium’s French-speaking Socialist party Elio Di Rupo echoed this, saying that talks were still in a deep ditch.
Leterme said on Tuesday he was leaving for Paris, to become deputy secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Belgium’s French- and Dutch-speaking components, the Walloons and Flemings, have been at loggerheads for years.
They have been without a government for a world record of 15 months.
A rise in Flemish autonomy efforts came in 2007.
Leterme, a Christian Democrat, forged an alliance with the Flemish NVA independents then and they won elections, but he couldn’t form a coalition so after two months’ trying he gave up.
Several governments rose and fell in quick succession.
In late 2007, Guy Verhofstadt formed a transitional one.
Leterme came back in spring 2008 to form “Leterme 1”.
It lasted for nine months, till the financial crisis.
In December 2008, Herman Van Rompuy took the reins, before being asked to head the European Council a year later.
Then came “Leterme II” in late 2009.
But a workable governing coalition continued to elude him, over differences between the richer northern Dutch-speaking separatists and southern French-speakers.
Leterme resigned in April 2010. New elections were thrown together for June. And the nationalist New Flemish Alliance NVA came out best, with its leader Bart de Wever, enjoying 28 percent of the votes.
This reinforced its independence drive, which was so unacceptable for the Walloons.
Language rights for French-speakers in the Flemish outskirts of Brussels stuck in the nationalists’ craw. The country also has German-speakers.
If yet more so-called last ditch talks fail, the country could face snap polls that some analysts say “may be the last Belgian elections ever”.
It basically comes down to a struggle between parties who want Belgium to stay united and those who want it split up.
A newspaper headline, (in English, you’ll notice) ‘Bye-bye Belgium’, was supposedly about the caretaker prime minister’s departure.