Belgian lawmakers have today voted to dissolve parliament in order to pave the way for new parliamentary elections on June 13th
, just two weeks before the country takes on the rotating presidency of the European Union.
The move came after the former government collapsed when the Flemish liberal Open VLD
party pulled out of the Prime Minister Yves Leterme
’s five-party coalition, and threatened to force a parliamentary vote to split the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde
(BHV) voting district, Belgium’s only bilingual constituency
The country has been torn by political infighting between the parties of the Dutch-speaking majority and French-speaking minority over their respective rights in the Brussels electoral district ever since elections in 2007.
Flemish parties, including Mr Leterme’s own Christian democrat CD&V
, want to split the three BHV districts along language lines, which would end the deal now whereby French-speakers in the Flemish districts can vote for both Dutch and French-speaking parties, while Dutch-speakers in Wallonia have no such rights.
The crisis comes just two months before Belgium takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union, and they are keen to avoid the crisis running into Belgium’s EU presidency, it could be acutely embarrassing for the country.
In a joint statement issued following the coalition’s collapse, the King and the Prime Minister said that “a political crisis would be inopportune in the current circumstances as it would seriously damage Belgians’ social and economic welfare as well as undermining Belgium’s role in Europe.
Former Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens
told Flemish television that the prestige of the country had risen enormously since the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy
as president of the European Council. “But if the government falls and the country lands in crisis in the run-up to July 1, that would be quite dramatic for us in a wider European context,
” he said.
Believe it or not, this is actually Mr Leterme’s third resignation.
In July 2008, he first offered his resignation after failing to patch up the rift between the Dutch-speaking Flemish and French-speaking Walloons. Back then, the King refused to accept his resignation – but accepted it in December the same year, amid allegations that the government had interfered with the courts.
In theory, the June 13th date would allow a government to form before the presidency begins. But remember it took Mr Leterme nine months to build the eventual five-party coalition after the last election, raising the question of whether his successor will manage a swifter transition this time round…