Mr Leterme throws in the towel
Fri 24/08/07 - Yves Leterme, the Flemish Christian democrat politician charged with forming a new Federal Government, has thrown in the towel.
Mr Leterme asked King Albert of the Belgians to relieve him of the task he was entrusted with in mid July on Thursday evening.
King Albert had been forced to break off his holiday in France as a result of the new political crisis that has hit the kingdom.
He landed at Melsbroek Military Airport in Flemish Brabant at shortly before 7pm and was driven straight home to Belvedere Castle in the Brussels suburb of Laken.
Mr Leterme arrived there shortly afterwards and held an audience with the King at around 7:30pm. After his meeting with King Albert, Mr Leterme issued a statement in which he said that "it became clear to me this afternoon that it is currently impossible to draw up an ambitious programme for government".
For over a month now the former Flemish Premier has been attempting to cobble together a new federal administration centred on the Flemish and Francophone Christian democrat and liberal parties.
This is seen as the only realistic combination.
In all likelihood the King will appoint a new mediator whose job it will be to examine how Belgium can get out of its present political impasse.
The King also met with the Francophone liberal leader Didier Reynders later on Thursday evening.
Mr Reynders refused to comment on what he and the King had discussed during their meeting.
Mr Leterme was forced to throw in the towel because the differences between Flemish and Francophone politicians could not be bridged.
Flemish negotiations point to the role of Joëlle Milquet, the leader of the Francophone Christian democrats, whose positions were miles apart from those of the other negotiators.
For the first time the MR overtook the Francophone socialists.
After the election King Albert asked MR leader Didier Reynders to take the first soundings.
Later the former Flemish Christian democrat politician Jean-Luc Dehaene was called in to bash heads together.
Five weeks ago King Albert appointed Mr Dehaene's party colleague Yves Leterme as "formateur" and asked him to put together a new coalition government.
Talks made progress on the budget and nuclear energy, but community issues and Flemish demands for institutional reform cast a long shadow over the talks.
The refusal of Francophone parties to consider such issues jeopardised the talks and eventually turned out to be their undoing.
An intervention by King Albert last weekend did not yield the anticipated result and Mr Leterme has now been obliged to terminate his mission.
Ball in the Francophones' court
The ball now seems to be very much in the Francophones' court. The Francophone Christian democrats especially have been accused by Flemish politicians and some Francophone liberals of not having wanted to give the talks a chance.
It now seems likely that the King will appoint a Francophone Christian democrat to try and get the coalition talks back on track.
The names of Francophone Christian democrat elder statesmen have been dropped as possible candidates to help steer the coalition talks out of the current impasse.