Fri, Dec 02, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Belgium nears a coalition as 535-day deadlock ends

RECORD-BREAKING:Jolted back to economic reality, politicians put their differences aside and will welcome in the new, French-speaking prime minister next week

AFP, BRUSSELS

Social Democrat Elio Di Rupo attends a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday. Belgian political parties agreed late on Tuesday to a governing coalition led by Di Rupo.

Photo: EPA

Political parties in Belgium, which has been without a government for 535 days, agreed on Wednesday on the blueprint of a ruling coalition to be headed by French-speaking Socialist Elio Di Rupo.

“There is a global agreement, on the reform of the state, socioeconomic questions and a government platform,” a source close to the negotiations told reporters.

Di Rupo emerged from the talks with a smile, but refused comment after days of trying to hammer out a deal between six parties split by political leanings, as well as by the country’s widening language divide.

The source said further details on the more than 180-page governing platform was to be released yesterday, with a Cabinet expected to be lined up at the weekend and a government sworn in next week.

Di Rupo, 60, would be Belgium’s first French-speaking prime minister in three decades and one of the few center-left voices in an EU dominated by conservative leaders.

He would also be the first Socialist to take the premiership in Belgium since 1974.

With the debt crisis spreading across the eurozone like wildfire, bickering politicians put their quarrels aside, sensing the urgency, when Belgium’s borrowing costs soared last week and ratings giant Standard & Poor’s cut its credit score.

The downgrade jolted politicians into agreeing an austerity budget last weekend that aims to balance the books by 2015, removing the last major obstacle for a government deal.

Talks between the six, three from the Dutch-speaking north, three from French-speaking Wallonia, previously had snagged on political differences over how far to reduce social welfare spending and tax the rich.

Absent from the talks and the coalition however is Belgium’s biggest party, the separatist Flemish N-VA led by Bart De Wever.

Belgium’s world-record political deadlock had raised fears the country was headed for a messy split, separating wealthier Flanders, which has 60 percent of the 10.5 million population, from the French-speaking south.

Belgium has been led by a caretaker administration since the last government resigned in April last year after failing to resolve long-running linguistic disputes dividing the Flemish region and Wallonia.

Elections in June last year failed to resolve problems after the pro-independence N-VA triumphed in Flanders and subsequently demanded radical transfers of powers to the Dutch-speaking region.

King Albert II named a series of mediators to try to break the deadlock, but breakthroughs were only achieved after De Wever’s party was excluded from the negotiating table in August.

This paved the way for a landmark deal to devolve more power to the regions in October, an issue that has vexed the nation for decades.

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