Saturday, September 04, 2010

Belgium and the Netherlands in political limbo after coalition talks fail

With coalition talks deadlocked in Belgium and the Netherlands, both European countries have been plunged into political crisis. 

European News | Expatica The Netherlands (Nigel Tandy (dpa/AP))

Nearly three months after inconclusive elections in the Netherlands, the Dutch Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Alliance have failed to form a coalition government with the support of the far-right Party of Freedom (PVV) led by anti-Islamist politician Geert Wilders.
Wilders told a news conference in The Hague that his party had lost confidence in the CDA's ability to form a stable government.
"The trust of the Freedom Party in the Christian Democrats has recently declined to a low point," Wilders said in a statement broadcast on national television. "We didn't cause this mess. We are a stable party."
The country has been in political stalemate since the June 9 parliamentary elections in which the ruling CDA lost half its seats, to 21, while the PVV emerged with 24 seats. Political observers see support for Wilders increasing further should fresh elections be called.
The CDA is seeking to form a minority government together with the conservative liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which emerged as the strongest party with 31 seats.
But such a minority government would require the tacit support of Wilders' PVV and its 24 seats to control 76 seats, in the 150-seat parliament.
The fallout was sparked by comments made by former Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, tasked with brokering an agreement, who said he was against any cooperation with Wilder's Party of Freedom because of concerns over freedom of religion.
Belgium in political turmoil
Belgium was also thrown into political turmoil as seven-party talks on forming a government collapsed on Friday, September 3. The talks had centered on demands for power, influence and funding between the Dutch-speaking Flanders region and the poorer French-speaking province of Wallonia.
Elections on June 13 saw two diametrically opposed political parties winning the strongest mandates. Politicians have been trying since to get the two sides to agree on a government program - to no avail.
On Friday, the man leading the negotiations, French-speaking Socialist Elio di Rupo, asked King Albert II to be relieved of his mission, according to a statement from the palace.
But the king was "withholding his decision" on whether to accept the move pending "consultations" with political leaders, the palace added.
Political demands
The strongest party in Flanders, the N-VA, wants Belgium's status as a federal state to be replaced with a loose confederation, a move which would give more power and money to Flanders.
Di Rupo offered the N-VA a transfer of competences from federal to regional governments worth 15 billion euros ($19 billion), and to launch a reform of the law on government financing.
"All conditions were there for the center of gravity to shift from the federal state to the federated entities," he said.
But the N-VA, backed by the more moderate CD&V, balked at parallel requests to give Brussels - an independent, bilingual region within Flanders, whose population is largely French-speaking - a fixed subsidy to patch up its chronic budget deficit.
Di Rupo initially suggested a 500-million-euro yearly handout, then cut his proposal in half, to 250 million euros.
"We need to start again," said N-VA leader Bart De Wever, indicating he could not accept a permanent handout for Brussels while the reform of government financing still needed to be agreed upon.
The political crisis leaves Belgium without an effective government. Meanwhile, the country's six-month-long presidency of the European Union is being steered by Yves Leterme and his caretaker administration.

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