Flemish leader blasts 'failed' Belgium
Flemish nationalist leader Bart De Wever called Belgium a failed state with a French-speaking region addicted to subsidies, sparking a war of words Monday in stalled government talks.
The kingdom's linguistic and financial fault line, splitting wealthier Dutch-speaking Flanders and francophone Wallonia, appeared far from closing as Belgium marked Monday six months without a government since June 13 elections, a stalemate that has unnerved the markets.
New Flemish Alliance leader De Wever, who wants greater autonomy for Flanders and power over the public purse, accused socialist-led French-speakers of blocking "sensible" reforms in an interview with a German magazine.
"This is why I say that Belgium no longer works. It is a nation that has failed," the nationalist leader told Der Spiegel in an interview published on Monday.
"Ultimately the Belgian state has no future," he said.
De Wever, whose independence-minded party triumphed in the June elections, also called Belgium the "sick man of Europe" and compared the fiscal dependency of the less wealthy French-speaking south to a drug addict.
"We are for solidarity, including financially. But if we disburse money to Wallonia, it must be done under normal conditions," he told the magazine. "This money cannot be an injection like a drug for a junkie."
De Wever also took aim at King Albert II, who has named various mediators to lead efforts to keep troubled seven-party talks alive.
"The problem is that the king still plays a political role," De Wever said. "For us Flemings, this poses a problem because the king does not think like us. For Walloons, it is an advantage because they are allied with him."
The francophone Socialist Party led by Elio Di Rupo retorted that it would "not yield to provocation" and would keep on working for a compromise.
"The N-VA is looking for excuses to hide its determination to destroy the federal state in order to obtain a republic of Flanders, and its inability to reach an agreement," the party said in a statement.
The protracted negotiations have raised the possibility of snap elections in early 2011 or even the break-up of a country founded in 1831 that is home to 10 million people and the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.
The four Flemish and three French-speaking parties involved in negotiations have been split over how much fiscal authority to cede to the regions. French speakers fear that ceding too much will hurt their region and national unity.
The political uncertainty has caused the country's borrowing costs to rise in a context of market jitters about high deficit and debt levels across Europe.
Run by a caretaker government led by Prime Minister Yves Leterme, Belgium must find 22 billion euros in savings by 2015 to bring down its public deficit.
The head of the central bank, Guy Quaden, urged politicians last week to form a government in the next few weeks in order to calm investors.
"A government is needed quite rapidly but it must be a stable government," Quaden said. "It is difficult to understand overseas how a country can remain without a government for over six months and still continue to function."
© 2010 AFP