Belgium's govt talks in deep trouble again

AP News
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Posted: Nov 21, 2011 1:43 PM
Belgium's govt talks in deep trouble again

The man trying to end Belgium's world-record government stalemate offered to resign Monday, plunging talks between the nation's Dutch and French speakers to new depths.

Belgium's major parties have been trying to form a government since the June 13, 2010 election _ but fears are growing that the 526-day-long impasse needs to end soon to keep financial markets at bay.

Both King Albert and European Union President Herman Van Rompuy immediately urged negotiators to regroup Monday and come to an agreement quickly so Belgium's borrowing rates don't spike to unsustainable levels.

"We need to be extremely careful and make sure there is a minimum of stability," Van Rompuy said on VRT network. "The lack of a government now really starts to weigh heavily."

Belgium is facing increasing pressure from the markets to come up with more taxes and spending cuts, and without a government, investors are worried that long-term reforms will not be enacted. Over the past week, Belgium's borrowing rates closed in on 5 percent, up toward the levels that are causing Italy and Spain so many problems.

The royal palace announced the king will consider Francophone Socialist Elio Di Rupo's offer to resign because of an impasse over the 2012 budget. Lawmakers need to find some euro11 billion ($14.8 billion) more in austerity measures.

His current caretaker government has been committed to getting the budget deficit down to 2.8 percent of GDP in 2012, but the EU is far from convinced, forecasting a wider shortfall of 4.6 percent for the country. It's also forecasting that Belgium's debt to GDP ratio will break through the 100 percent barrier in 2013 without big budget reforms.

Last month, Di Rupo clinched a breakthrough on a constitutional revision to grant more autonomy to its two main parts, Dutch-speaking Flanders and Francophone Wallonia.

At the heart of the debate lies a desire for more autonomy _ and even independence _ in Dutch-speaking Flanders, Belgium's economically more powerful and populous northern half.