Belgian king issues Christmas plea for unity
Belgium's king, Albert II, launched an impassioned Christmas plea Friday for unity, as the country readied to mark its longest-yet period without a functioning government.
December 25 will see Belgian politics create a new record -- 195 days since elections without a clear possessor of the mandate to govern.
Christmas Day will mark a new nadir for the divide between Belgium's Dutch and French-speaking communities, beating the wait to establish anything resembling a stable government following June 2007 elections.
As 2011 beckons, the Belgian people are genuinely wondering if a state created less than 200 years ago, and that houses the European Union and NATO headquarters, can survive.
Albert II, though, is determined to try and reconcile feuding Flemish and Walloon parties with radically different philosophies and identities.
"It seems to me that this country has begun to forget the art of compromise these last years," he said in a rare address.
"We should have the courage to be artisans of peace," he said, calling on all political leaders "and all citizens" to come together for the sake of his kingdom.
The king insisted that endless negotiations between diametrically-opposed viewpoints had produced the opportunity for "a profound reform" of the Belgian state, one that would keep it intact.
He said there would be a "major" transfer of day-to-day power to Flanders and Wallonia (plus Brussels, the European city-state bridging the divide, and a 70,000-strong German-speaking community), but that it would still be necessary to "ensure the long-term financing of the federal state."
That was a clear reference to a series of declarations from market movers suggesting that Belgium's public finances could soon get sucked into a eurozone debt speculation whirlpool, after money markets stopped lending to Greece and Ireland at reasonable rates, requiring international bailouts.
The European Commission, which polices these matters, predicts that Belgium's national debt will become more than an entire year's economic output next year -- hence the fretting from at least one major credit rating agency and the caretaker government's finance minister, Didier Reynders.
And so the king warned that "the time has come where true courage is defined by a resolute search for a compromise that unites, not something that exacerbates opposition."
He said he was "convinced" that negotiations to form a federal government -- one that can do more than just keep the trams running -- "will succeed."
The king's latest go-between, Flemish Socialist senator Johan Vande Lanotte is due to present on January 3 an over-arching compromise proposal.
© 2010 AFP