Belgium’s King Albert II picked Flemish nationalist party leader Bart De Wever to explore options for a coalition government that can heal the rift between the country’s Dutch speakers and French speakers.
De Wever, 39, accepted his mission after meeting with the monarch in suburban Brussels, the royal palace said today in a statement. De Wever’s New-Flemish Alliance, or N-VA, won 27 of the 150 seats in the June 13 national elections, emerging as the biggest party in parliament after advocating regional powers.
Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis may force Belgium to speed up the government formation, which took a record nine months three years ago. While the election result doesn’t affect the country’s AA+ rating, a “continued political stalemate” could put downward pressure on the debt grade, Marko Mrsnik, a credit analyst at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services in Madrid, wrote in a note two days ago.
“It would be unfortunate if it takes too long,” National Bank of Belgium Governor Guy Quaden told reporters in Brussels yesterday. “I do hope we won’t see a repeat of the bad experience we had three years ago.”
The yield premium investors demand to hold Belgian 10-year bonds rather than German debt of similar maturity rose 1.6 basis points to 83.4 as of 4:22 p.m. in Brussels. The spread widened to the highest level since March 2009 last week, reaching 107.6 basis points on June 8.
Belgium has the third-highest debt relative to gross domestic product of the 16 nations sharing the euro, after Greece and Italy. Its public debt is projected to surpass gross domestic product before the end of this year, according to National Bank forecasts published yesterday, assuming a 2010 budget deficit of 5 percent.
“I’m convinced that we will be able in Belgium to reach a reasonable compromise and a balanced institutional agreement,” Elio Di Rupo, 58, whose Parti Socialiste won 26 seats in parliament and overtook the Liberals of outgoing Finance Minister Didier Reynders among French-speaking parties, told reporters in Brussels yesterday. “Ideally, the next government should have a large majority of two thirds of the seats in parliament.”
A six-party coalition made up of N-VA, Christian Democrats and Socialists in the Dutch-speaking north and of Socialists, Humanists and Greens among French-speaking parties would have 100 of the 150 seats in the Chamber of Representatives, enough to make changes to Belgium’s constitution.
Such a coalition would reflect the ruling regional governments on both sides of the linguistic divide. Di Rupo’s Socialists could also opt to bring in Reynders’s Liberals rather than Humanists and Greens, adding one more seat in a five-party coalition.
The job handed to De Wever, called “informateur” in French, is to sound out the options and report back to the monarch. The politician given the royal assignment doesn’t necessarily go on to become prime minister. In 2003, the king picked Di Rupo to propose options and in 1999 he tapped Louis Michel of the French Liberals. Neither went on to become government chief.
After the 2007 elections, King Albert II first gave Reynders an exploratory assignment. Reynders handed the job back after four weeks and the monarch then put Jean-Luc Dehaene, a former prime minister, on a conciliation mission before Yves Leterme was given an opportunity to assemble a government coalition.
Should Di Rupo become prime minister in the next government, he would be the first French speaker from Wallonia in the job since Edmond Leburton in 1974.