Belgian king taps ex-premier to pave way for new leader

22nd November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Belgium's king appointed Friday ex-premier Wilfried Martens to help pave the way for a new prime minister after the incumbent Herman Van Rompuy was named European Union president.

Brussels - Belgium's king appointed Friday ex-premier Wilfried Martens to help pave the way for a new prime minister after the incumbent Herman Van Rompuy was named European Union president.

"The king has charged Mr Martens with the mission of assisting a quick and efficient transition," the royal palace said in a statement, after the monarch held talks with Martens.

The move came after Van Rompuy was named by EU leaders on Thursday to be the bloc's first-ever president in part due to his ability to unite Belgium's fractious linguistic communities.

Van Rompuy is to remain in office in Belgium for some weeks yet, before taking up his EU post in January.

Martens, 72, was given a similar mission almost exactly a year ago to try to find a solution to the political crisis which held up the formation of a permanent government for almost a year.

A Flemish Christian Democrat who served as prime minister almost without interruption from 1979 to 1992, Martens was also considered a candidate to take back the post he held so long again last year.

On Friday, Belgium widely feted Van Rompuy's EU nomination.

But the joy was tempered by fears his departure would hurt Belgian politics, perennially in turmoil over tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish community to the north and the poorer francophone region in the south.

Van Rompuy had 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 which Martens will try to address.

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

His predecessor Yves Leterme 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.

AFP/Expatica

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