Boston artist Steve Mills - realistic painting

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Belgian Stalemate

Belgian Stalemate: King Prohibits Parliament 

from Convening, Prevents BHV Vote and Burka Ban

Belgium, the state of origin of EU president Herman Van Rompuy, is proving its status of non-country once again. For the fifth time since he was elected in 2007 the prime minister Yves Leterme, a Christian Democrat of Van Rompuy’s party, has either failed to put or keep a government together. Yesterday, he submitted his resignation to the King after one of his Flemish coalition parties, the Liberal VLD, withdrew from the government.
Leterme resigned after the umpteenth deadline had expired within which he had promised to settle the issue of the unconstitional electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (generally referred to as BHV). All that is needed to settle this issue is a vote in parliament. At the committee level this vote has already been passed, with a majority voting to separate the Flemish (linguistically and territorially) towns of Halle and Vilvoorde from the electoral district of the bilingual capital of Brussels. To prevent the vote from being passed in the general assembly, the francophone parties of Wallonia and Brussels employed a number of procedures, buying time for the government to negotiate a “solution” where the Flemish would be put under pressure to make political, financial or territorial concessions to the francophones in exchange for a redrawing of BHV.
Leterme’s latest attempt failed, again because the francophone parties have no intention of settling the issue at all and are making demands that would undo five decades of careful constitutional reform and upset the precarious political balance. However, the monarchy has come to the rescue. After receiving Leterme, he refused to accept the resignation and immediately summoned the Speaker of the Belgian parliamant, Patrick Dewael, a member of the VLD, and put him under pressure not to convene parliament, and so to prevent any initiative that might lead to the BHV issue being tabled and voted in the general assembly.
By preventing Parliament from convening the King also thwarted the final vote on the burka ban, which was scheduled for yesterday
See also:

Belgium Will Survive for Now, but Not for Long

This afternoon, on the 150th day after the June 10th elections, the Home Affairs Committee of the Belgian House of Representatives voted to divide the electoral constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) into a Flemish constituency (Halle-Vilvoorde) and a bilingual constituency (Brussels). The politicians from the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders voted in favour of the split-up, while the politicians from the French-speaking region of Wallonia left the room in protest. The majority of the Belgians are Flemish, but the country has always been dominated by Wallonia. It is the first time in Belgium’s 177 years of existence that he Flemings use their demographic majority of 60% to impose their will.

In Flanders, Belgium’s Dutch-speaking northern half, last June’s elections were won by two parties. The first of these was CD&V (Christen-Democratisch & Vlaams), an alliance of Christian-Democrats and Flemish-Nationalists which aims to transform Belgium into a confederacy of Flanders and Wallonia, the country’s French-speaking southern half. The second of these were the Flemish-secessionists, who aim for downright Flemish independence. Together they polled 56.1% of the Flemish electorate. The CD&V leader Yves Leterme, the son of a Walloon father and a Flemish mother, became the most popular politician in Flanders, with more than 800,000 votes to his name.

The huge gains of Flemish confederalists and secessionists resulted from the deep frustration with the political stalemate concerning the BHV electoral constituency. In a 2003 ruling the Belgian Constitutional Court ordered the Belgian government to abolish this constituency, which allows French-speaking politicians to stand for election in the Halle-Vilvoorde region, which is Flemish, while Dutch-speaking politicians are not allowed to stand for election in Wallonia. The Constitutional Court ruled that this is a discrimination of the Flemings and exhorted the government to rectify the situation by July 2007 at the latest. The governing Liberal and Socialist parties in the coalition of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (a Flemish Liberal) failed to do this. Consequently the Liberals and Socialists lost the elections in Flanders, but won in Wallonia.

It is an unwritten rule of Belgian politics that a government has to consist of the largest parties from both parts of the country. Since the elections Yves Leterme has been trying in vain to form a government of Christian-Democrats and Liberals. The Christian-Democrats and the Liberals, however, could not agree on the BHV issue. As Parliament has now asserted its authority over the issue, it is expected that soon a government will be put together which will leave the BHV issue to Parliament rather than trying to solve it at the governmental level.

It will take months before the BHV issue will be put to the vote in the plenary parliament. The Belgian Constitution contains a provision which stipulates that a majority decision taken by the Flemish majority against the French-speaking minority can be objected to by the latter on the grounds that its “vital interests” have been violated. Tonight the leaders of all the French-speaking parties convened and invoked the "violation of vital interests" clause. The procedure requires that now a 60 day "cooling" period is observed. Another result is that the Belgian Parliament can only settle the issue with a two-third majority and a majority within each language group. This makes it virtually impossible to split BHV against the will of the Walloon minority. In the meantime, however, a time-consuming procedure will have to be followed, which will postpone a decision in the plenary parliament for several months – perhaps even until after the regional elections in June 2009. Consequently Mr. Leterme will be able to govern until June 2009, when the political deadlock will resume.

A poll published yesterday in Het Laatste Nieuws, the largest newspaper in Flanders, shows that the Flemings do not expect Belgium to survive. 63% of the Flemish people think that Belgium’s end is near. 87% answered no when asked whether compromises should be made with the Walloon parties in order to save Belgium. 84% said that a reform of the State which grants greater autonomy to Flanders, should be the government’s absolute priority.

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