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Belgian crisis threatens European integration: king

Published on 20/07/2011

Belgium's King Albert II warned Wednesday that the country's year-long political stalemate was now threatening to slow the momentum of European integration.

On the eve of the divided nation’s national day, the monarch pleaded with feuding Flemish and French-speaking parties to resolve their differences and form a government, 402 days after legislative elections.

“Our current situation is a cause for concern among our partners and could damage our position in Europe, and even the momentum towards European integration which has already been undermined by populism and euroscepticism,” the king said in a televised address.

A founding member of the European Union, Belgium has often been considered an example of integration in the European Union, with a Dutch-speaking community in the north and francophones in the south.

But it now risks becoming a symbol of divisions in the 27-nation EU as politicians in Flanders and Wallonia struggle to strike a deal to transfer more federal powers to the regions.

“In this national day, I would have liked to enjoy with you the swearing in of a new government. Alas, we are not there yet, and I deplore this,” the 77-year-old king said.

A proposal by francophone Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo was rejected on July 7 by the largest party in Flanders, the separatist N-VA led by Bart De Wever.

The impasse has left Belgium with a dubious world record as it surpassed Iraq this year as the nation without a government for the longest time.

“Like many Belgians, I am distressed that it is taking the longest time in recent memory to form a government,” he said in a speech that was cleared by the caretake prime minister, Yves Leterme.

“If this situation lasts much longer, it could negatively and concretely affect the economic and social well-being of every Belgian,” said Albert II, who rose to the thrown in 1993.