Flemish party pulls out of Belgian coalition

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The NVA (New Flemish Alliance) said Sunday it will stop backing the federal government as it no longer believes in their ability to find a solution to the political crisis.

22 September 2008
BRUSSELS -- The Flemish centre-right nationalist party said Sunday it decided to stop backing the federal government as it no longer has any confidence in government leaders to find a solution to a political crisis over devolving more powers to Belgium's Dutch- and French-speaking regions.

Political parties in Belgium met on Sunday to accept or reject the five-point talks blueprint proposed by the three mediators who advised King Albert II on how to kickstart constitutional talks between Dutch and French speaking political parties after two months of consultations.  

The congress of the small Flemish nationalist party the NVA (New Flemish Alliance), allied with Prime Minister Yves Leterme's Christian-Democrats, voted to withdraw against the backing of the federal government.

On Friday, the mediators told the Belgian king that Belgium should hand more powers to its feuding Dutch- and French-speaking regions, as part of a root and branch review of the country's institutions.

The main aim of such talks should be "balanced and broad state reform leading to a rebalancing of the institutional centre of gravity, notably in extending more autonomy, competences and responsibility" to the regions without jeopardising solidarity in areas such as social security.

Flanders, accounting for some 60 percent of the 10.5 million population, has long sought more regional powers to reflect its prosperity. It also resents subsidising the less affluent Wallonia.

Unable to paper over the linguistic faultline more than a year after the 10 June 2007 general elections, Prime Minister Yves Leterme handed in his resignation in July but the king refused to accept it.

French speakers have agreed to enter into reform talks, realising it was perhaps the only way to stop Belgium breaking up - which almost one in two Flemish people want, according to opinion polls.

In an effort to end the stalemate, the king appointed the trio of senior politicians to thrash out a way out of the federal crisis.

They were Walloon minister Raymond Langendries, Francois-Xavier de Donnea of the officially bilingual Brussels-Capital region, and Karl-Heinz Lambertz from the small German-speaking community.

Leterme, as prime minister, has ensured that the interests of the Flemish-speaking community are respected.

The "wise men" group said the talks, between six francophone and six Dutch-speaking representatives, should begin with "a blank page, without taboos, or pre-agreements" with the group to set its own pace and agenda.

The talks should get underway before the start of the next national parliamentary session in mid-October with a view to reaching "partial agreement" ahead of regional elections next June, the report, delivered in person to the king, said.

One of the thorniest inter-regional issues, the special political rights afforded to French speakers living in Flemish areas around the capital Brussels, will not be discussed in these talks but in another forum "when appropriate", the three advisors said.

 [AFP / AP / Expatica]

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