'Failed' Belgium marks six months without government

13th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Flemish leader at the heart of Belgium's stalled coalition talks blasted the king and the "junkie-like" dependence of French-speaking parties as the nation marked six months without a government on Monday.

The kingdom's linguistic and financial fault line, splitting wealthier Dutch-speaking Flanders and francophone Wallonia, appeared far from closing 180 days after the June 13 elections, a crisis that has unnerved financial markets.

New Flemish Alliance leader Bart De Wever, who has demanded greater autonomy for Flanders including on tax collection, accused socialist-led French-speakers of blocking "sensible" reforms in an interview with a German magazine.

"This is why I say that Belgium no longer works. It is a nation that has failed," the nationalist leader told Der Spiegel in an interview published on Monday.

De Wever, whose independence-minded party triumphed in the June elections, also called Belgium the "sick man of Europe" and compared the fiscal dependency of the less wealthy French-speaking south to a drug addict.

"We are for solidarity, including financially. But if we disburse money to Wallonia, it must be done under normal conditions," he told the magazine. "This money cannot be an injection like a drug for a junkie."

De Wever also took aim at King Albert II, who has named various politicians -- an "explorer," a "clarifier" and a now "conciliator" -- to lead efforts to keep troubled seven-party talks alive.

"The problem is that the king still plays a political role," De Wever said. "For us Flemings, this poses a problem because the king does not think like us. For Walloons, it is an advantage because they are allied with him."

The political uncertainty has caused the country's borrowing costs to rise in a context of market jitters about high deficit and debt levels across Europe.

Run by a caretaker government led by prime minister Yves Leterme, Belgium must find 22 billion euros in savings by 2015 to bring down its public deficit.

The head of the central bank, Guy Quaden, urged politicians to form a government in the next few weeks in order to calm investors.

"A government is needed quite rapidly but it must be a stable government," Quaden said last week.

"It is difficult to understand overseas how a country can remain without a government for over six months and still continue to function," he said.

The protracted negotiations have raised the possibility of snap elections in early 2011 or even the break-up of a country founded in 1831 that is home to 10 million people and the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.

The latest royal mediator, Flemish socialist Johan Vande Lanotte, is said by the French-language newspaper Le Soir to be "at wit's end."

French-speaking parties have agreed to negotiate on fiscal reform that would hand more power to the federal regions, but the talks have been bogged down over technical details amid francophone fears that it would favour Flanders.

The negotiators "still can't imagine themselves as partners of a future coalition," political commentator Charles Bricman said in his blog. "They intensely mistrust each other."

© 2010 AFP

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