Belgian center-right coalition clinches deal

AP News
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Posted: Oct 07, 2014 3:14 PM

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian center-right parties have agreed on a tentative coalition deal to end more than four months of government limbo.

Three parties from Dutch-speaking Flanders and the MR liberals from the southern Francophone region ended a final marathon negotiation session late Tuesday with an agreement to lower taxes and raise the pension age from 65 to 67 by 2030.

Under the tentative deal, the MR leader Charles Michel will become the second Francophone premier in a row, following the center-left administration of outgoing Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

The rise of Michel is surprising since the May 25 elections yielded a big victory for the right-wing N-VA party in northern Flanders, where 6,5 million of the nation's 11 million citizens live. If the deal goes through he will become the first liberal francophone premier in over half a century.

But the top job is offset by the domination of Flemish parties in the government makeup. "This is a unique coalition," said N-VA leader Bart De Wever, who is seen as the driving force behind the coalition even though he chose to remain mayor of the port of Antwerp.

Di Rupo's Socialists and Belgian trade unions have already severely protested the agreement as too business-friendly. The new government is expected to be approved over the weekend.

Even though the coalition talks took over four months, it never compared to the record 541 days of stalemate following the previous elections.

Under the deal, De Wever said that the government would issue cuts of over 8 billion euros to reach a balanced budget by 2018.