Saturday 16 December 2017

Belgian party chief urges end to political squabbles

Robert Wielaard in Brussels

The separatist New Flemish Alliance became Belgium's biggest party after a general election and its leader warned that the country's endless political squabbling must stop.

Bart De Wever, the New Flemish Alliance leader, and other party leaders spoke with King Albert yesterday to figure out who should form the next government.

Mr De Wever said the way forward for Belgium -- which hosts major EU institutions and the NATO alliance -- depended on the willingness of its four million French speakers to accept more self-rule for Flanders and Wallonia, its Dutch and French-speaking regions.

"This country cannot afford months of political instability," said Mr De Wever (39), adding that the new government must also curb runaway spending.

After the 2007 elections, the formation of a new government took more than six months due to linguistic disputes.

Despite his electoral win, prospects of Flanders, Belgium's Dutch-speaking north, bolting from an unhappy union are iffy.

Only the far-right Flemish Interest Party supports that. Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists oppose it, but they also want more regional self-rule.

Voters gave Premier Yves Leterme's outgoing coalition of Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists -- all split into Dutch and French-speaking camps -- a withering report card for three years of stalemate.

The New Flemish Alliance won 27 seats in the 150-seat legislature, the Socialists in Wallonia won 26 seats and the long-dominant Flemish Christian Democrats captured only 17 seats.

Irish Independent

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