Belgian PM gets more time to defuse new political crisis
The lower house of parliament has put off reading a hotly disputed bill which is threatening relations between feuding Dutch- and French-speaking politicians.29 April 2008
BRUSSELS - Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme got an extra week on Tuesday to defuse a simmering crisis between feuding Dutch- and French-speaking politicians, threatening his government barely a month in office.
Belgium's lower house of parliament decided to put off until 8 May reading a hotly disputed bill that could threaten special voting rights enjoyed by Francophones living in the Dutch-speaking suburbs of the capital Brussels.
If the bill - which Flemish politicians are pushing in the face of fierce Francophone resistance - is adopted, it could deal a fatal blow to Leterme's fragile coalition government.
The leader of French-speaking Socialist lawmakers, Thierry Giet, said the delay "allows more time to find a concerted solution" although it was put off for agenda reasons rather than for allowing more time to negotiate.
The issue was one of many that caused bad blood between French- and Dutch- speaking politicians while Leterme struggled to form a coalition government in the nine months that followed his election victory in June in 2007.
Flemish parties want to do away with a special arrangement that allows French-speakers living in the Flemish suburbs of Brussels to vote in the neighbouring Belgian capital, where French-speakers are in a majority.
Belgian politics has long been marked by deep divisions between Dutch-speakers, which make up 60 percent of the country's population, and French-speakers.
Flanders, Belgium's northern half, craves more regional powers to reflect its prosperity. It also resents subsidising the less affluent, French-speaking Wallonia region to its south.
[APF / VRT / Expatica]