September 4, 2010 / 10:47 PM / in 7 years

Belgium back in crisis as mediator quits

3 Min Read

<p>Flemish Ecologist Party (Groen!) President Wouter Van Besien (C) leaves a meeting with Belgian King Albert II (R) at the Laeken Royal Palace in Brussels September 4, 2010.Thierry Roge</p>

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium plunged back into political crisis on Saturday as the politician trying to broker formation of a government quit, almost three months after an election.

King Albert accepted the resignation of French-speaking Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo, the second mediator who has failed to bridge the divide between French and Dutch speaking parties that besets Belgian politics.

Di Rupo's failure brings closer the possibility of a fresh election to try to produce a viable coalition government.

The perennial failures of governments that must represent both sides of the linguistic divide mean that Belgium has learned to live with power vacuums at the center.

But its national debt is as large as its annual economic output, and it can ill afford political paralysis at a time when financial markets are on the look-out for budgetary laggards.

The king's next step was to ask one representative of each community -- the Francophone speaker of the lower house of parliament, Andre Flahaut of the Socialist Party, and the speaker of the Senate, Danny Pieters of the Flemish separatist party N-VA -- to mediate to restart the talks.

"The king ... charged the speakers of the lower house and the senate with the mission of mediation of restarting negotiations to form a government," the palace said in a statement.

While Dutch-speaking parties are pushing for more powers for their region, Flanders, the French speakers fear that their region, which is poorer, will lose out, and that the process will eventually lead to Belgium breaking up.

The previous coalition collapsed when the two linguistic communities could not settle an electoral dispute over the region around the capital, Brussels.

The head of the Flemish N-VA, which won June's election by one seat, abandoned his attempt to form a government in July, saying there was not enough agreement on key issues.

Di Rupo has said the N-VA and the Flemish Christian Democrats were the parties that brought his negotiations to an end.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yves Leterme has bought some time by passing a bill to cut the budget gap to 4.8 percent of gross domestic product this year, from a previous plan of 5.6 percent.

However, a new government should already be setting out plans for 2011 and beyond.

Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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