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Belgian party says ready to help end political crisis

Published on 21/07/2011

A key party in Belgium said Wednesday it was ready to help end the country's long festering political crisis by negotiating the formation of a government, but listed a number of conditions.

On the eve of the country’s national day, King Albert II had warned that the year-long political stalemate was threatening to slow the momentum of European integration.

The Flemish Christian Democrats then announced late Wednesday they could join seven other parties for talks on ending the deadlock, which if successful would give the coalition a parliamentary quorum.

Party leader Wouter Beke said he was ready to start talks immediately on the future of Belgium’s sole dual-Flemish and French administration, that of Bruxelles-Hal-Vilvorde, or “BHV”.

His party and other Flemish parties demand the curtailment of certain electoral and judicial rights of francophones in this area, which falls in the borders of Flanders.

Compensation for francophones should be sorted out later and considered in more detail by working groups, said Beke.

“When we have divided BHV, when we have resolved this problem, it will be a sign of trust and we can negotiate a government,” Beke said on television.

However, French-speaking Socialist Elio Di Rupo, whom Albert II has asked to form a government, says he wants to deal with BHV and other contentious issues simultaneously to reach a comprehensive agreement.

Albert II earlier pleaded with the 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 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.