Connect to share and comment

Dutch and Belgians await word on new governments

The Dutch and Belgians remain in the dark about who will form their governments a week after citizens voted en masse for breakthrough political parties in the form of Flemish separatists in Belgium and far-right opponents of Islam in the Netherlands.

In Belgium, King Albert II has invited the republican leader of a party that wants the break up the Kingdom to lead talks to form a new coalition government. Over the border a veteran conservative senator appointed by Queen Beatrix to mediate talks has abandoned efforts to forge an alliance between the center- and far-right and turned to the left.

Separatist leader Bart De Wever emerged as head of Belgium’s biggest political party when his New Flemish Alliance party stunned opponents in last Sunday’s election by dominating the vote in the country’s Dutch-speaking northern half. The portly De Wever further shocked the country’s political establishment by maintaining his trademark open-necked shirt when called to the royal palace by the king.

In both countries, the monarch plays a largely symbolic role, but Albert and Beatrix do still have to nominate successful party figures to lead government coalition talks.

Belgian media is cautiously optimistic that De Wever will be able to cobble together a coalition government with the leader of the Socialist Party Elio Di Rupo, who emerged strongest in Belgium’s French-speaking south.

The two parties are poles apart. De Wever wants to halt social security payments from the rich north to the poor south and remove voting privileges for a French-speaking minority in the north as a prelude to independence for Dutch-speaking Flanders. The dickie bow-wearing Di Rupo wants more government spending to protect jobs and maintain social services, and is opposed to any break-up of the kingdom.

Despite their deep differences, there is cautious optimism that the two archrivals will agree a form a unity government.

Efforts in the Netherlands to form a three-way rightwing coalition between the victorious People’s Party for Freedom of Democracy (VVD), the defeated centrists of the Christian Democratic Appeal and the far right Freedom Party got nowhere. The Christian Democrats refused to enter into a coalition with Freedom party leader Geert Wilders — who compares the Koran to Hitler’s Mien Kampf, wants to roll back Muslim immigration and surged to third place in the election.

Veteran VVD senator Uri Rosenthal, who is mediating the coalition talks, is now turning toward the Labor Party which came second in the polls and other left-of-center parties. But there are major doubts over Labor’s willingness to strike a deal on the economic program of the VVD, which wants drastic cuts in public spending.