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Belgian government crisis

April 25, 2010

Didier Reynders, the Belgian finance minister, has accepted King Albert II's request to broker emergency talks aimed at reuniting Belgium's Flemish and Francophone parties in government.

Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders
Reynders will hold talks with all governing parties over the weekendImage: AP

French-speaking Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders has taken up the difficult task of mediating between Belgium's five governing parties, who have been at loggerheads over how to split the Brussels-Hal-Vilvoorde (BHV) electoral district, Belgium's only bilingual constituency.

"There's still time to avoid the worst," he said on Belgian television on Friday, urging all parties to return to the negotiating table.

The issues in Brussels have sparked a bitter row among the five Flemish and Francophone parties that formed the government until the Flemish liberal party Open VLD quit the coalition last Thursday, prompting Prime Minister Yves Leterme to hand in his resignation on the same day.

Crisis could weaken Belgium's EU presidency

The latest crisis comes just two months before Belgium takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union. King Albert II, who has not yet accepted Leterme's resignation, is keen to solve the crisis without holding snap elections before July 1.

Belgian Premier Yves Leterme
Leterme's resignation has not yet been accepted by King Albert IIImage: AP

The head of Open VLD, Alexander De Croo, reiterated on Saturday that his party wants a solution to the Brussels problem by next Thursday. If no solution is found, the Flemish parties, which dominate the governing coalition, have threatened to split BHV without reference to French speakers.

Row over rights of Francophone Belgians

At the heart of the feud between Belgium's parties is the ongoing debate about the rights of Francophone residents in and around the capital Brussels.

French speakers are in the minority in Brussels, which lies in the Flemish region of Flanders. The governing coalition has so far been unable to find a way to divide the Brussels electoral district in a way that satisfies both Flemish and Francophone residents.

The Brussels Atomium
Brussels is home to around 100,000 French speakersImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Reynders' appointment is seen as a shrewd move by King Albert II, as Reynders is also the head of the liberal Francophone party Parte Mouvement Reparateur (MR), which is seen as the most vocal of the French-language parties in the government.

The coalition, which was only formed five months ago, consists of the Flemish and Francophone Christian Democrat parties, the Flemish and Francophone Liberal parties and the Francophone Socialist party.

Recent proposals by former Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene had failed to solve the issue, with Francophone parties unhappy with the rights envisaged in Dehaene's plans.

Editor: Nigel Tandy