Belgium close to getting a government ending 535-day crisis

30th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Belgium was ever closer on Wednesday to finally getting a government as a deal was near to end a world-record political crisis that has left the country rudderless for 535 days.

Six political parties from the country's Dutch-speaking and Francophone communities were expected to sign a political programme, paving the way for the formation of a government headed by Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo.

"We should be concluding tonight," the Socialist party negotiator, Laurette Onkelinx, told reporters on arrival for talks with other politicians. "It's the end of the tunnel."

A deal on a programme would allow the distribution of ministry posts early next week.

Di Rupo, 60, will become Belgium's first French-speaking prime minister in three decades and will be one of the very few centre-left voices in a European Union dominated by conservative leaders.

With the debt crisis spreading across the eurozone like wildfire, bickering politicians were given a new sense of urgency last week when its borrowing costs soared and ratings giant Standard & Poor's cut its credit score.

The political deadlock had also raised fears that the country was headed towards a messy divorce, separating the wealthier Flemish region, which has 60 percent of the 10.5 million population, from French-speaking Wallonia.

But the ratings downgrade seemed to have jolted the politicians into agreeing an austerity budget last weekend that aims to balance the books by 2015, removing the last major obstacle for a government deal.

Belgium has been led by a caretaker administration since the last government resigned in April 2010 after tailing to resolve long-running linguistic disputes dividing the Flemish region and Wallonia.

Elections in June 2010 failed to resolve things after a pro-independence party, N-VA, triumphed in Flanders and its leader, Bart De Wever, subsequently demanded radical transfers of powers to the Dutch-speaking region.

King Albert II named a series of mediators to try to break the deadlock but breakthroughs were only achieved after De Wever's party was excluded from the negotiating table in August.

This paved the way for a landmark deal to devolve more power to the regions in October, an issue that has vexed the nation for decades.

© 2011 AFP

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