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Open VLD steps out and the Belgian government catches a cold

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Text: Zoé de York Translation: Joan Manuel Lanfranco Pari

After having provoked a day of chaos, the Flemish liberals (Open VLD) finally accepted to sit again at the negotiation table, with the condition that trust “was restored”.

This turnaround is somewhat surprising given the fact that during Thursday 22 April the VLD’s MPs, united as never before, contemplated a strength strategy against the French-speaking parties.

Flemish parties have an absolute majority in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives and they tried to impose the vote on a law which is beneficial for them, on the split of the electoral and judicial district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV).

If that had happened, this vote, considered as an attack overmuch for the francophone parties, would have certainly broken the confidence between the negotiators, like it happened in autumn 2007. Back then, a similar strength strategy by Flemish parties provoked the walkout of all French-speaking deputies in the chamber, which abandoned the hemicycle under applauses from Flemish extremists.

From the French-speaking side, VLD’s manoeuvre is perceived as a cold electoral calculation. By quitting the government, VLD’s president Alexander De Croo pretends to become the hero of the Flemish cause, hoping to obtain additional votes in the forthcoming Federal elections.

The Dutch-speaking describe the situation as a courageous and necessary decision towards the French-speaking parties, whom they accuse of constantly extending the negotiation periods without any foreseeable outcome. True, after four years francophone parties play for time and keep postponing the fixed deadlines, in the hope of obtaining more concessions from the Flemish side.

Even on 22nd April, De Croo was invoking the will to solve the situation of BHV as main motivation for his party withdrawal. Yet, he wanted to defer the debate to this summer, since the organisation of new elections would have been the most probable consequence of the Federal government’s resignation.

By returning to their decision to drop the government coalition, the Liberals would displace these elections and negotiations would resume over again.

Herman Van Rompuy: “I hope that common sense will prevail”

During the morning of April 23rd, King Albert II resumed his consultations. He met alternately the presidents of different parties in the chamber: Marianne Thyssen (CD&V), Elio Di Rupo (PS), Joëlle Milquet (CDH), Jean-Michel Javaux (Écolo), Wouter Van Besien (Groen) and Caroline Gennez (SP.A).

The monarch has four days to take a decision concerning the resignation of the Federal government.

Asked by CafeBabel Brussels during a meeting organised by the European Movement Belgium, the permanent president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy refused to comment on the situation. He added however that he expected “as many Belgians, Flemish and French-speaking do” that common sense will prevail.

Regarding the relations between the permanent presidency of the European Council and the Belgian rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, he declared: “we are in an exceptional situation where my predecessor (ed. note: in the position of Belgian Prime Minister) is also my successor. Hence, I do not think that in human or institutional terms we will have big problems.” Herman Van Rompuy declared that he was “looking forward to working with the current renovated, refreshed and resettled government”.

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