Herman Van Rompuy is seen as the man with a plan, particularly by King Albert who asked him to form Belgium’s new government. At 61, he is set to succeed Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who was forced to resign after a scandal over the giant bank Fortis. Leterme and his Justice Minister are at the centre of claims that attempts were made to influence a court ruling over the bailout of Fortis’ Belgian arm by French bank BNP-Paribas.
Van Rompuy has the reputation of being both an intellectual and budgetary hardliner. He also has no lack of political experience, having already led the Flemish Christian Democrat party from 1988-93.
Elected in 1995, Van Rompuy is seen as a palatable successor to Leterme, with many believing he is relatively even-handed in his approach to disputes between French and Dutch speaking parties.
Electoral division in Belgium’s regions remains at the heart of the country’s current crisis. The issue is also bound to return to the political limelight in 2009 with regional elections due in June.
Another major problem will be the economic crisis. Van Rompuy must pass a budget for 2009 that has still not been approved. An economist by trade, he helped take Belgium into the euro zone after a rigorous financial plan to lower the country’s debt. His last challenge, which is arguably the most difficult, will be trying to hold the current government together.
While the five party coalition is expected to carry on for the time being, there is no guarantee that Van Rompuy can hold it together until the end of the current legislature scheduled for 2011.