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Press bewildered as political dance reels on

8 November 2007

BRUSSELS – The Belgian press reacted with bewilderment on Thursday as long-running talks on forming a government seemed to collapse in acrimony without actually coming to an end.

On Wednesday, representatives of Belgium’s two ethnic groups clashed in Parliament, with the Flemish majority steamrollering a controversial vote through against the opposition of the French-speaking minority for the first time in recent history.

“The law of the strongest,” French-language dailies Le Soir and La Libre Belgique both described it in banner headlines.

“For the first time in the country’s history, the face-to-face talks ended with the will of one language community to impose its views on the other language community,” La Libre added.

But despite the unprecedented move, talks between the two sides on forming a government appeared likely to go on as before.

“The unthinkable has happened, without apparently damaging the cohesion of the orange-blue partnership,” Flemish-language daily De Standaard wrote in amazement.

“Incredibly, the orange-blue coalition survived,” French-language daily Le Soir admitted in similar perplexity.

Belgium is divided between the Dutch-speaking Flemish majority and French-speaking minority. Its political blocks mirror that split, maintaining separate parties in each language community.

On Wednesday, Flemish-speaking members of Parliament voted in committee to split the Brussels electoral district, overriding the opposition of French-speaking parties and provoking them to walk out of Parliament.

After the walkout, the smaller French-speaking party in coalition talks, the conservative CDH, declared that the talks had been “suspended de facto” by the “irresponsible” vote.

But an emergency meeting of French-speaking leaders limited itself to saying that they were “indignant” at the move and promising to use a constitutional rule to block any further move on splitting Brussels – but to keep on talks on forming a government. 
In the crowning irony, their decision to block the Brussels issue looks set to make coalition talks easier by taking the issue off the immediate agenda – a paradox many papers highlighted on Thursday.

But with the talks already having lasted a record-breaking five months, the dominant atmosphere in the press was one of dismay.

[Copyright dpa 2007] 

Subject: Belgian news