Belgian PM scraps UN trip to sort political mess

24th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

Following the withdrawal of support from Flemish NVA party, Prime Minister Yves Leterme cancels trip to New York to focus on the political crisis at home.

24 September 2008

BRUSSELS -- Prime Minister Yves Leterme scrapped a trip to the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday to focus on salvaging his fragile coalition government.

Leterme suffered a political blow over the weekend when a group of six Flemish nationalist lawmakers withdrew support for the government coalition to protest slow progress on constitutional reforms designed to give Dutch-speaking Flanders more regional powers.

It was the latest development in Belgium's long-standing disputes between its 6.5 million Dutch speakers and 4 million Francophones about how the country should be run.

Leterme's five-party coalition still holds a majority in the 150-member Belgian parliament, but the decision by the NVA Flemish nationalists to walk out of the government further erodes Leterme's influence as prime minister

After six months in power, Leterme has failed to get French-speaking parties to agree to Flemish demands for more powers to be devolved to the regions.

The dispute over constitutional reform has brought normal government work to a near standstill for the past 15 months, despite pressure for action to counter economic problems in the wake of the international financial market crisis.

A special committee of three lawmakers set up by King Albert II last week recommended that negotiations ensure a "radical" overhaul of the way the country is run to avert its breakup.

Three politicians offered an eight-point plan to resolve a tense dispute that has deadlocked Belgian politics since the June 2007 election. The committee said talks should begin before the national parliament returns on 14 October.

Flemish parties want their half of the country to be more autonomous by shifting taxes, some social security measures, transport, health, labour and justice matters to the linguistically divided regions.

They also want to breakup a bilingual voting district around Brussels – a move fiercely resisted by French-speakers who say it will disenfranchise thousands of Francophones living in the suburbs.

Francophone parties accuse Dutch-speakers of trying to break up Belgium.

[AP / Expatica]

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