"Work on the Renaissance"
A packed Parliament and public gallery yesterday waited to hear the brand-new Prime Minister deliver his government statement. Shortly before two-thirty Di Rupo was led in by Chamber Chairman André Flahaut PS. He had hardly settled on the platform before he launched into a long passage in Dutch before addressing the Flemings directly, saying: “The Prime Minister must be the prime minister of all Belgians. I promise you that I will do my best to improve my Dutch. I will visit Flemish families, businesses and associations. We will get to know each other better and I look forward to it. I will work hard not to disappoint you, but I do ask for your patience and understanding.” Di Rupo did not neglect to stress the giant steps his team had already taken. “During the long crisis we have now put behind us, we could have lost everything: our country, our wealth and our social model. But now the solutions are on the table. It is now up to the government, the venerable parliament, and each and everyone to play their part in the renaissance of our country. If we close ranks we could once again enter an era of prosperity.” Cleverly switching between French and Dutch, he used the latter to express notions such as more stringent measures and French to express notions such as ‘hope’ and ‘a better future’. Addressing his audience in Dutch, he said: “We live longer and that is a good thing.But we must realise that it is not a viable option to spend one third of one’s life at work and two thirds as a student or pensioner. Without profound reform we will not be able to deal with the credit burden and higher life expectancy.” Then he switched to French with: “People are asking for solutions rather than conflict. They are demanding accountability and the courage to lead our country to a new future.” He ended off with: "Vous aviez réclamé des changements majeurs. Ils sont prêts, les voici." You have asked for radical reforms. Here you have them. Di Rupo’s baptism of fire received mixed reactions, but as could be expected with a clear distinction between majority and opposition. Olivier Maingain of the Francophone party FDF which broke with the liberal MR during the negotiations on state reform, expressed his disappointment with the absence of concrete figures and objectives in front of flashing cameras. “How many jobs does he intend to create, how much economic growth? We will form an honest opposition, but we insist on the truth.” The Flemish Nationalist N-VA party, which staged a walkout after having rejected formateur Di Rupo’s compromise text, stressed that Di Rupo only enjoyed the support of a minority of Flemings. The green party Groen!, which approved the agreement on state reform but was excluded from the new government at the demand of the Liberals, felt that the strongest shoulders the wealthy people did not carry the heaviest burden. Open VLD was remarkably moderate, comparing Di Rupo to his predecessors : “He doesn’t sound like the accountant Leterme was. But he is definitely not a Verhofstadt either.”