Belgium has a new government

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Following marathon meetings lasting 21 hours the five majority parties reached a deal to form a new national government.

Following marathon meetings lasting 21 hours the five majority parties reached a deal to form a new national government. This ends a nine-month political stalemate after the June 10 elections.

At 6:30 in the morning Prime Minister designate Yves Leterme (Flemish Christian democrat) announced, "We've reached a good government accord with a lot of concrete measures."

Guy Verhofstadt (Flemish liberal), who has led the country since 1999, was reappointed at the end of December after six months of stalemate following the elections, but he said he would make way for Yves Leterme by March 20.

Yves Leterme is pleased with the results of the marathon talks. The five majority parties are: CD&V (Flemish Christian democrats), CDH (Francophone Christian democrats), Open VLD (Flemish liberals), MR (Francophone liberals,) and the PS (Francophone socialists). Some parts of the accord are vague but others very concrete.

Purchasing power

Agreement was reached quite quickly regarding the improvement of purchasing power. The majority parties want to increase the tax-free minimum and simplify the tax scales.  Concrete figures are lacking.

It was also agreed to increase some social benefits - pensions will go up as well and child allowance and minimum wage. The exact increases will be decided later, contingent on budget talks.

The accord also stipulates a modernisation of the labour market. The public sector may use interim workers. The amount that retired people may earn on the side will be increased. Unemployment benefits will be made digressive, i.e., they will be higher in the beginning and then decrease gradually.

Health insurance will continue to increase by 4.5%, but a reserve will be put aside every year whereby the actual expenditures in the sector will in reality go down slightly. This was also the case under the former government.

Asylum and immigration policy

Negotiations on asylum and immigration policy were long and tough and there is less clarity here, partly due to different interpretations by the different parties. For the moment, the Home Affairs Minister will decide on regularisation; later a special commission may be established. What we do know now is that the Leterme I government will be stricter on family reunification and fast-track naturalisation.  Economic immigration will be possible.

Regarding the so-called 'Lejeune law' on the early release of prisoners, the Leterme I government wants to make the conditions tougher. For some sorts of crime there would not be the possibility of an early release at all.

During the course of Tuesday the majority parties are presenting the accord reached to their rank and file. On Wednesday party congresses will take place and on Thursday the new government is due to be sworn in by the King. PM Leterme will then present his government declaration to parliament.

MP designate Yves Leterme

Yves Leterme, 47, was hailed as the main victor of the June 10 elections in Dutch-speaking Flanders, the most populous region.  However, he failed twice to form a coalition with French-speaking parties that opposed his plans to bring more devolution in the linguistically divided country.

Leterme straddles the linguistic divide: his mother is Flemish, his father Walloon.  His numerous gaffes have not warmed him to French speakers however even though he has since tried to improve his divisive image.

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