December 30, 2008 / 3:41 PM / in 10 years

Belgium's Van Rompuy named PM after coalition deal

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - King Albert named Flemish Christian Democrat Herman Van Rompuy as Belgian prime minister on Tuesday to head a revived five-party coalition in a country facing recession and a bank crisis.

Belgium's Lower Chamber Chairman Herman Van Rompuy leaves the Royal Palace after a meeting with Belgium's King Albert II in Brussels, December 28, 2008. REUTERS/Ezequiel Scagnetti

Van Rompuy replaces his party colleague Yves Leterme, who resigned on December 19 over allegations of political meddling in the bailout of stricken bank Fortis.

“The king received Mr. Herman Van Rompuy this afternoon at the Chateau de Laeken and named him prime minister,” the palace said in a statement.

Van Rompuy, 61, is to make a speech to parliament on Wednesday at 0900 GMT, and a vote of confidence is to take place on Friday.

“It’s the same coalition with the same five parties,” said Pascal Delwit, president of the Centre for Political Studies at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles. “But Van Rompuy is a little bit more subtle than Yves Leterme.”

The press agency Belga said the only changes Van Rompuy planned to make in the government were justice minister, interior minister and minister for public service and government-owned companies.

Delwit said he could be more successful in the job than Leterme because he was more attuned to the linguistic and political divisions between the poorer, French-speaking south and the richer, Flemish, Dutch-speaking north.

“I think he knows better the French-speaking people, the French-speaking politicians, and in this way, he is more engaged in compromise. I think perhaps he will do better,” Delwit said.

He is expected to take over his predecessor’s plan to battle a looming recession caused by the global financial crisis.

“Nothing is simple in our country, but what is important is that we have a government to lead with seriousness, stability and serenity,” said Elio di Rupo, leader of the Francophone Socialist Party.

INTELLECTUAL

Van Rompuy has a reputation as an intellectual and a budgetary hard-liner. He has written six books on socio-economic and political themes, and his website includes several original haiku poems with political themes, along with his recommendations for poetry and books.

Van Rompuy will be the third prime minister since general elections in June 2007. His country is host to the main European Union institutions and to NATO.

“I think we have a good formula to have a government this year,” said Didier Reynders, leader of the Francophone Liberal Party, who will stay on as finance minister.

Belgium is expected to have slipped into recession in the fourth quarter, major banks have received bail-outs, and fighting the economic downturn will be Reynders’ main challenge.

Van Rompuy was budget minister from 1993 to 1999 and sharply reduced public debt in his first year in office.

His other task will be to sort out the Fortis debacle. The bank’s shareholders won an appeal court ruling this month, freezing the group’s break-up by the Dutch, Luxembourg and Belgian governments and the latter’s sale of Fortis assets to BNP Paribas.

Leterme’s government had planned a 2 billion euro ($2.87 billion) package of measures to boost growth, including tax cuts, lower energy costs and infrastructure projects.

That government collapsed after the Supreme Court said there were clear indications of political meddling in a court ruling on the bailout of Fortis.

Belgium’s coalition comprises the Flemish Christian Democrat Party, Flemish Liberal Party, Francophone Liberal Party, Francophone Christian Democrats and Francophone Socialist Party.

Writing by Marcin Grajewski and Jan Strupczewski; editing by Editing by Kevin Liffey

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