Deadlock in Belgium over state reforms

Brussels-Halle-Vilvorde constituency remains at the heart of the conflict · Its final status must be determined by this Wednesday, in a key debate for the stability of Yves Leterme’s Government.

Last March Flemish politician Yves Leterme took up the post of Belgian Prime Minister, nine long months after the general elections. Since then some progress has been made to resolve the current deadlock, but the linguistic communities remain very much divided and a solution to the political impasse is a long way off.

Even before discussing the second packet of reforms of the federal Belgian state, which include a number of controversial measures relating to finance and the devolution of powers, talks on a much more specific issue, the future of the Brussels-Halle-Vilvorde constituency, are threatening to topple the fragile coalition government.

Unlike voters in the rest of the region of Flanders, inhabitants of the towns on the outskirts of Brussels in this constituency are allowed to vote for both Flemish-speaking and French-speaking parties. The Flemish parties want to divide the constituency, leaving Brussels as the only bilingual electoral district and voters in Halle-Vilvorde only able to vote for Flemish parties, as in the rest of the region of Flanders (similarly, voters in Wallonia can only vote for French-speaking parties).

Last autumn Flemish parties voted in favour of the split, but Walloon parties boycotted the vote in protest, and the debate was postponed. The session scheduled for 8 May will give us a better idea of how much the two sides are willing to co-operate and will perhaps give an indication of how even thornier topics of discussion will go down in the weeks to come.

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