Socialist seeks to form Belgian government

AP News
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Posted: May 17, 2011 11:01 AM
Socialist seeks to form Belgian government

Almost a year after elections set off relentless political infighting, Belgium's new government broker said Tuesday all parties in the bilingual nation will need to show a spirit of compromise _ and a willingness to fundamentally change the country _ "as if it were our last chance."

Elio Di Rupo, the leader of Belgium's French-speaking socialists, reached across the linguistic divide to Dutch-speaking parties and acknowledged the balance of power in the kingdom had to move away from the centralized government long preferred by Francophone parties.

In his opening speech as government broker, Di Rupo called for "a new balance with greater autonomy for the regions."

The insistence on more self-rule in Dutch-speaking Flanders has been at the heart of an 11-month political stalemate that has shaken the country of 6 million Flemings and 5 million Francophones to its roots, and even prompted some to contemplate for the first time the end of the nation.

Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of the country, is richer, and it has increasingly demanded more autonomy, while French-speaking Walloon politicians want to hang on to as many national institutions as possible for the financial well-being of their region.

After endless information rounds between parties, King Albert II sent Di Rupo out as the first politician to actually form a new government. It will also have to revise the constitution and fundamentally change the running of the country.

"We have to meet the expectations of the people," Di Rupo said. "I am convinced that the tipping point needs to move from the federal state to the regions" of northern Flanders, southern Francophone Wallonia and bilingual Brussels.

Di Rupo will need broad support since any change of the constitution needs a two-thirds majority within each of the two linguistic groups.

On top of that, he will be looking for a strong economic program which will hinge on a willingness of further austerity to keep Belgium a credible member of the eurozone countries.

A key goal will be to convince the N-VA Flemish nationalists who were the winners of last year's elections along with the Di Rupo's socialists. Their programs have long been seen as nearly incompatible.

"Everybody knows that the views remain very far apart," Di Rupo said. Almost everyone is convinced that Belgium will easily reach the landmark on June 13 of being without a fully-fledged government for a year.

"We need the determination of the first day and try a compromise as if it were our last chance."

In the meantime, outgoing Prime Minister Yves Leterme continues in a caretaker capacity.