Belgium has a new prime minister, the third in 18 months. King Albert has sworn-in the Flemish Christian Democrat Herman Van Rompuy as head of a new five-party coalition government.
He replaces fellow party member Yves Leterme, who resigned earlier this month over allegations of political meddling in the bailout of the bank Fortis. The new government is virtually identical, with just three new ministers. Belgium is expected to have slipped into recession in the fourth quarter of this year and fighting the economic downturn will be the 61-year-old’s main challenge. Van Rompuy will also have to show sensitivity in handling the strained relations between Flanders, Belgium’s richer, more populous, Dutch-speaking region, and its Francophone area. After saying he did not want to replace Leterme, he appears to have given in to pressure from fellow Flemish Christian Democrats who feared liberals might otherwise insist on the return of former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt.