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Belgium’s Flemish Nationalists Ditch Coalition Talks

Bart De Wever
Bart De Wever’s N-VA party, the top vote-getter in the June 13 election, said it won’t restart seven-party coalition talks because French-speaking parties refuse to hand more control over personal income tax to the regions. Photographer: Olivier Papegnies/AFP/Getty Images

Belgium’s Flemish nationalists pulled out of talks to form a government, deepening the country’s political stalemate 113 days after deadlocked elections.

Bart De Wever’s N-VA party, the top vote-getter in the June 13 election, said it won’t restart seven-party coalition talks because French-speaking parties refuse to hand more control over personal income tax to the regions.

“We are not going to fall back into the old disease of agreeing to a bad coalition agreement for the sake of it,” De Wever, 39, told reporters in Brussels today. “The exercise needs to be restarted from scratch.”

The pullout by the Flemish nationalists, who haven’t ruled out a breakup of Belgium, puts a stable government further out of reach after an initial bid to cobble together a coalition ran aground on Sept. 3.

Belgian bonds dropped after the announcement amid concern that political instability would complicate the management of Belgium’s debt, which at 96.7 percent of gross domestic product is the third-highest in Europe.

Investors now demand an extra 89 basis points to hold Belgian as opposed to 10-year German bonds, up from 81 basis points on Oct. 1. The extra yield, a measure of the risk of investing in Belgium, compares with 401 basis points for Ireland and 180 basis points for Spain.

‘Too Complicated’

“I would be surprised to see the spread rising above 100 basis points,” which it last hit the week before the election, said Alexandre De Groote, managing director of Petercam Institutional Bonds in Brussels. “The danger is that foreign investors, who already had to deal with Greece and Ireland, may become nervous because Belgium gets too complicated and they will just sell.”

De Wever’s party won 27 parliamentary seats in Flanders, the richer Dutch-speaking north of Belgium. It used the electoral surge to try to force through a rewrite of the constitution to give more power to Flanders and cut transfer payments to the poorer French-speaking south.

De Wever didn’t call for new elections. He said he will support the caretaker government led by Yves Leterme on any “urgent” matters requiring parliamentary approval. Leterme’s caretaker government still has the backing of 70 of the 150 lawmakers in parliament, falling short of the majority needed to pass legislation.

‘End of Belgium’

The first attempt to corral the Dutch- and French-speaking parties into a governing coalition was led by Elio Di Rupo of the French-speaking socialists, winners of 26 seats in parliament.

The breakdown of that effort triggered recriminations on both sides of the linguistic divide. Laurette Onkelinx, a French-speaking Socialist, told La Derniere Heure that “it’s time to prepare for the end of Belgium.”

The N-VA’s decision to pull out of coalition talks is “irresponsible,” French-speaking parties PS, cdH and Ecolo said today in a joint statement, adding that they want to maintain “the fundamental pillar of interpersonal solidarity” at the federal level.

The French-speaking parties also reiterated their demand that the financial consequences of every proposal to devolve more powers to the regions should be calculated by both the Federal Planning Bureau and the Belgian central bank.

Flanders has progressively gained more authority in five constitutional revamps over four decades, as its growing wealth surpassed the older industries that concentrated power in the French region for more than a century after Belgium’s founding in 1830.

Some 14 percent of Belgians want to split up the country, according to a La Libre Belgique poll published on Sept. 7. The majority, 57 percent, called for the quick formation of a government and 12 percent wanted new elections.

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