Leterme gets second chance

1st October 2007, Comments 0 comments

1 October 2007, BRUSSELS (AFP) - Top Flemish politician Yves Leterme Sunday faced the tough task of forming a new coalition government after Belgium's King Albert II gave him a second chance to break a lingering political deadlock.

1 October 2007

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Top Flemish politician Yves Leterme Sunday faced the tough task of forming a new coalition government after Belgium's King Albert II gave him a second chance to break a lingering political deadlock.

Leterme in August failed to shepherd Belgium's main Dutch and French-speaking parties into a coalition to end a political stalemate and the monarch summoned the 46-year-old leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats late Saturday to a picturesque country chateau to give him a second chance.

"The king charged Mr Yves Leterme to form a government. He accepted the mission," the Royal Palace said in a terse statement in after the meeting.

Leterme will now have to lead the tricky talks between Belgium's main Dutch and French speaking parties to form a new coalition with a government unlikely to emerge for at least several weeks.

If the bilingual Leterme succeeds this time around, it would also make his Belgium's next prime minister.

"If things go well, and it's a big 'if', we could have an agreement on a government in two or three weeks," commentator Fabrice Grosfilley told Belgian television RTL-TVI ahead of the Royal Palace's announcement.

With a French-speaking father and a Dutch-speaking mother, Yves Leterme has the perfect genes to bridge Belgium's linguistic divide, but in the past he has often done more to spark tensions than ease them.

After his Flemish Christian Democrats came out on top in June 10 general elections, it looked almost certain that he would become Belgium's next prime minister.

But coalition talks broke down in August under his leadership over Flemish demands for more powers for regional governments, which many politicians in the poorer French-speaking region of Wallonia fear could lead to secession.

With the collapse of coalition negotiations, Belgium's political establishment sank deep into crisis, fuelling media speculation that it could be the first step on a slippery path of the country splitting up.

In the absence of a new government, the country -- encompassing Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels-capital region -- continues to function under the outgoing coalition of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.

A relative newcomer to national politics, Leterme built up a regional political career in Flanders and did not join the federal house of representatives until 1999, when his Christian-Democrats were pushed into opposition for the first time in 40 years.

Reserved and hard-working, he became a party heavyweight and in 2004 became the head of the regional government of Flanders after an earlier career as a member of a government audit watchdog and an expert to the European Union.

His efforts to revitalise the Christian Democrats appeared to pay off in the 10 June election when the party regained the dominance of Belgian politics that it had held for most of the post-war period.

Although perfectly bilingual, Leterme has made little effort to soothe tensions between northern Dutch-speakers and southern Francophones, whom he disparaged last year for lacking the "intellectual capacity" to learn Dutch.

In addition, he has stoked controversy in the past in Wallonia by saying that Belgium was an "accident of history" and that the country has no "intrinsic value."

[Copyright AFP 2007] 

Subject: Belgian news

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