Belgium’s King Albert II has accepted the government’s resignation after negotiations failed to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district in and around Brussels, the country’s capital.
The king had waited since last week to see if last-ditch talks could keep the coalition government of Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme together. But late on Monday, it became clear the differences between the linguistic groups were too deep. Elections could now be called in early June.
“I regret that the necessary dialogue to achieve a negotiated settlement did not produce the result we hoped for,” Leterme said in a statement.
The Royal Palace said that “the king has tasked the government to continue in a caretaker capacity.”
Belgian governments have a long tradition of teetering on the brink of linguistic collapse. For half a century, they have brokered ever more complicated compromises to keep the country from falling apart at the expense of giving the linguistic groups more autonomy.
The crisis comes at an inopportune moment: Belgium will take over the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1.
Leterme highlighted the work that had been achieved to shield the country from the global economic crisis, reform the judiciary and prepare for the EU presidency.
“This work needs to be continued,” Leterme said.
Speculation had been that the five coalition parties would keep trying to break the stalemate at least until tomorrow, when the next session of parliament was planned, but that did not happen.
“We wanted a negotiated solution but it was quickly clear that there was no political will,” said Alexander De Croo, head of the Dutch-speaking Liberals.
The current coalition took office on March 20, 2008, following a political impasse over a related linguistic spat that lasted a record 194 days.
Linguistic disputes rooted in history and economic disparities have dominated politics the country of 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million Francophones.
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