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Belgium's Flemish separatists block talks on coalition

Belgium's Flemish separatists, the N-VA, have rejected a proposal on talks to end a political standoff. The country has been without an effective government for more than 200 days and the future looks unclear.

Belgian flag

Belgium has lacked a true government for six months

Belgium's Flemish separatist party N-VA rejected a proposal to revive talks to end the country's long-standing political stalemate on Wednesday evening.

The party, which won the highest number of votes at the country's last elections, said it had "fundamental remarks" objecting to a text that was to form a basis for negotiations.

"We will see if these remarks are acceptable to the other parties," the N-VA said in a statement on Wednesday. "We will then see whether there is any sense in engaging in final negotiations."

Belgium's seven main political parties had been due to announce if they would be able to cooperate to form a stable government for the country.

Wednesday marked a deadline set by Belgian King Albert II in October for representatives from the nation's Dutch and French speakers to reach a political compromise in an effort to resume talks on forming a government. Belgium has been without a government for six months.

Linguistic divide

Central to the discussion was a 60-page document containing the text to which the N-VA objected. The document had been aimed at offering a compromise of greater autonomy to the N-VA, which is in favor of independence.

A pin on a suit lapel that reads 'Split Belgium'

Belgium is divided along linguistic lines

The proposals were drafted by Flemish Socialist Johan Vande Lanotte on a request from King Albert. Included is a plan to transfer a quarter of national tax income - around 15 billion euros ($20 billion) - to the regions.

However, in accordance with the wishes of French-speaking parties, the document also calls for 15 percent of taxes raised in the regions to be passed on to the largely French-speaking city of Brussels.

The country is divided along linguistic lines, with the more prosperous Dutch-speaking Flemish looking for greater autonomy - and control of tax revenues. The French-speaking Walloons are keener on national unity and a pooling of public money.

200 days without government

The fundamentally different views on autonomy are unprecedented, Pierre Vercauteren, a politics professor at the University of Mons, told Deutsche Welle.

"From the Flemish side the reform of the state is just one step towards the independence of Flanders," Vercauteren said. "From the French-speaking side they want to keep a strong federal connection between the northern and southern parts of the country."

The N-VA gained 28 percent of the votes in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders at elections on June 13. The poll failed to produce an obvious winner or coalition match, and efforts to forge an alliance have been unsuccessful, leaving the country without a real government for more than 200 days.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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