03 October 2007

Belgium, between a rock and a hard place...

Belgium is facing a constitutional crisis. From IHT
International Herald Tribune

Belgian king calls on politicians to end linguistic squabble
Sunday, September 30, 2007

BRUSSELS: The king of Belgium on Sunday asked the head of the Flemish Christian Democrats for a second time to form a center-right government, hoping that rival linguistic camps of Dutch-and French-speaking politicians were ready to end a four-month deadlock.

The royal palace said in a statement that four weeks of exploratory talks have revealed "enough elements of convergence" among Christian Democrats and Liberals to resume their talks to form a government.

The country is divided between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and Francophone Wallonia in the south. In the middle lies the capital, Brussels, which is officially bilingual. About 6.5 million Belgians speak Dutch, compared with 4 million Francophones.

The Christian Democrats and Liberals, each split into Dutch- and French-speaking parties, won a majority of the 150 legislative seats in June 10 elections.

What keeps them from taking office is a demand by Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats and Liberals for more regional autonomy in health, justice and transportation for Flanders and the redrawing of a bilingual Brussels-area voting district that the constitutional court has declared to be illegal.

Francophones have accused Flemish politicians of trying to engineer the demise of Belgium as a unified state.

King Albert asked Yves Leterme, head of the Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats, to try again to form a government. The first attempt failed after five weeks of fruitless talks.

Leterme made no comment Sunday. But Bart De Wever, head of the Flemish nationalist party allied with the Christian Democrats, said several disputes remained, adding, "I bet no money on a date for a new government to take office."

In recent days, politicians of various parties have said the would-be coalition partners planned to take on the disputed autonomy issues in phases.

Almost everything in Belgium - from cable companies and the boy scouts to health insurance providers and pigeon-racing clubs - is split into Dutch- and French-speaking camps.

The reaction to the re-appointment of Leterme was cool because significant hurdles remain and because Leterme is very unpopular in Wallonia.

He has called Francophones "intellectually incapable" of learning a second language and stunned many recently when he launched into the French national anthem when a Francophone journalist asked him if he knew the Belgian anthem.

Switzerland doesn't seem to have any problems with its French, German and Italian speaking regions. On the other hand, Czechoslovakia decided to separate in 1993. Yes, a split is probably best for Belgium.

I have a million things to do and not enough time.

Emily came over tonight for dinner (I made Hokkien noodles with puff tofu and leafy greens). She has only just returned from two months in Jakarta (Indonesia) for work.

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