Belgian press proud but concerned as PM gets EU top job

21st November 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Belgian press unanimously hailed Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy's ascension to EU president as a national honour, but voiced concerns over its effect on the fragile domestic front.

BRUSSELS - "Yes!" headlined La Libre Belgique, "The Coronation" echoed Le Soir, while La Derniere Heure feted "A Belgian at the head of 460 million Europeans" and the Dutch-language De Standaard spoke of "a new star for Europe".

But the gushing sentiment was tempered by fears for how the departure of Van Rompuy, a quiet consensus-builder, could affect Belgian politics, perennially thrown into turmoil by the tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish community to the north and the poorer francophone region in the south.

Van Rompuy has been engaged in very tricky negotiations on the rights of the francophone minority in Flemish suburbs of Brussels, a focal point for the communal differences.

The larger picture is that leaders in the richer Flanders region are seeking more autonomy, something the southerners in Wallonia oppose.

Le Soir conveyed the national dilemma by publishing a picture of Van Rompuy next to his predecessor Yves Leterme, who is well-placed to return to power but had a pretty torrid term last time.

Leterme lasted less than a year in power, forced to quit last December amid a banking bailout scandal. During his short tenure he also struggled with the Flemish-francophone problem.

"With Herman Van Rompuy, Belgium gives Europe its first president. A historic moment which the Belgians hail. But the man must prove himself," the paper opined, hinting at the premier's lack of international profile.

Next to that item, under the headlined "Revenge" the Brussels newspaper gave equal billing to the prospect of an unexpected return for Leterme, who annoyed the francophones with a string of gaffes while in power last time.

Both Van Rompuy and Leterme are from the Flemish Christian Democrats which is in a fragile coalition with francophone parties.

"The way is open for Yves Leterme. He can swiftly return to 16 rue de la Loi (the PM's address). We await with bated breath," Le Soir sighed.


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