[lg policy] 18 Months After Vote, Belgium Has Government; Leader promises to brush up on his Dutch

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Sat Dec 3 15:48:02 UTC 2011

18 Months After Vote, Belgium Has Government


Published: December 1, 2011

BRUSSELS — The financial markets have finally done what 18 months of
talks, a large protest march and a series of bizarre demonstrations
failed to do: broken Belgium’s political deadlock.

Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Elio Di Rupo, the prime minister-to-be, has promised to brush up on his Dutch.

Follow @nytimesworld for international breaking news and headlines.

After an indecisive election in June 2010, the country’s fractious
political parties could not manage to form a governing coalition until
this week, when a credit downgrade and the threat of being engulfed in
the euro debt crisis brought new urgency.

Six parties with enough combined Parliament seats to govern reached a
coalition agreement late Wednesday and presented it to King Albert II
on Thursday. Barring any new problems, Elio Di Rupo will be sworn in
as prime minister on Monday.

A leader of the country’s Socialists, Mr. Di Rupo, 60, will be the
country’s first head of government since the 1970s whose first
language is French, a subject of controversy in a country divided
between 4.5 million French speakers, who live mainly in Wallonia in
the south, and 6.5 million Dutch speakers, who live mainly in
Flanders, the wealthier northern region, where separatist parties have
gained ground.

Europe’s sovereign debt crisis has brought down the leaders of
Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Greece, Italy and Spain. By contrast, in
Belgium, the bond markets have effectively forced a country without an
elected government to create one.

Mr. Di Rupo, the son of an Italian immigrant, will take office
committed to cutting 11.3 billion euros (about $15.2 billion) from the
national budget. He has also promised to improve his spoken Dutch,
which is glaringly weak in a country where officials and politicians
routinely are fluent in both of the country’s main languages, and in
English, another tongue that gives Mr. Di Rupo trouble.

“If you’re looking for public support for a government, it may be a
problem when the leader of that government has difficulty speaking the
language of the majority,” Yves Leterme, the caretaker prime minister
who will yield to Mr. Di Rupo on Monday, said on Dutch television.

An editorial in Le Soir, a French-language newspaper, said: “Elio Di
Rupo speaks Dutch poorly and will never speak it better. He is —
everyone knows — feeble at languages.”

Dutch speakers were once victims of discrimination by the country’s
French-speaking elite. Now they provide much of Belgium’s economic
dynamism, and often resent having to support the less prosperous
French-speaking areas, leading to growing separatist sentiment.

Flanders is where the new government will be most sorely tested. The
new coalition excludes the Flemish separatists who won the most seats
of any single party in the last election.

It does include the Flemish wings of the Socialist, Christian
Democratic and Liberal Parties, and the leaders of those blocs have
won increased regional control over economic policy and concessions in
a complex voting-boundary dispute. But Lieven De Winter, professor of
politics at the Université Catholique de Louvain, said that may not be
enough to help Mr. Di Rupo in the north.

“This government cannot be popular, due to the fact that it will have
to implement cuts and the fact that the opposition in Flanders will
say that everything they do is at the Flemish expense,” Professor De
Winter said.

Even so, he said, the new government will probably survive until the
next elections are due in 2014 — “not because of its dynamism or
popularity, but through the lack of an alternative.”

NYTimes, December 3


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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