No Christmas vacation for the Belgian King Albert II

I didn't write about the Belgian politics anymore since last July. I left you all with the message that Leterme I had resigned and had left the country in a big crisis. I was so disgusted by it all that I never followed up on my story.

But the king, after many many consultations, had refused the resignation of the prime minister. In order to solve the problems, the state reform negotiations were transferred to the regional governments and got out of the federal spotlights. By the end of september the radical Flemish nationalistic NVA, the political party linked in a kartel to Leterme's party CD&V , lost its patience with their big brother in the government and the lack of results. NVA decided to break-up the kartel and no longer support the government. Pheww, that did relieve some of the negotiation stress on the federal government and gave them some more breathing space to govern while their regional colleagues would now negotiate about a new future state structure.


And then the financial crisis hit our country and the biggest Belgian (-Dutch) bank FORTIS got into trouble at the end of September. While Lehman Brothers got bankrupt, Iceland became a broke country, our government got together with their Dutch and Luxemburg colleagues and nationalised Fortis on 28th of September. The Belgium government got the Belgian part (the one that was in trouble!), the Dutch government got the Dutch part (healthy) etc...
Leterme was glimming with pride on the press conference, finally able to show off his power to make swift decisions for the first time in his government.

But the stock markets were not convinced, the actions for Fortis were crashing further, rumours about new trouble arose and in the weekend of Oct 5th our government quickly sold the Belgian Fortis to the French PNB Paribas. By this action, Leterme had prevented Fortis of going bust and Belgium going bankrupt and had he saved the savings of so many Belgians according to him.
He had probably not expected the wave of Belgian protests since thousands of Belgians had lost an incredible amount of money in the shares of Fortis (formerly considered one of the most safe, stable and robust companies) which had now become worthless. They soon gathered in a law firm who contested the sale of Fortis without consultation of the share holders.

Leterme also claimed on Dutch tv that the European commision wasn't available that weekend and could not be reached. The Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes simply called Leterme a liar as a response, something that was wildly covered by international press and put some shadows on Leterme's proud actions.

The first court dealing with the Fortis sale decided that the government had had no other option that weekend in such an urgent and serious situation and that therefore the sale without share-holder consulation had been legal. But the share holders didn't accept that just like that, so they went into appeal. On Dec 12th the court of appeal put the sale on hold and frooze all the decisions taken. From then on the government started cursing at the share holders, blaming of putting the country at risk, and trying to find a way in continuing the sale anyway . All analysts say that the situation in the mean time is totally different though and that there are plenty of different options to look at: a merger of different Belgian banks, further nationalisation of Fortis, ....
But the government clearly didn't want to consider any other options, stubbornly holding on to their first action taken.

And then the rumours rose about contacts between the court judges and the government and their kabinets. On Dec 16th Leterme gave the parliament an overview of contacts that have taken place between his team and judges or their relatives etc... in a letter. His coalition partners didn't even know about this before he talked to the parliament which hurt their trust in him.
The next day the president of the Court of "Cassatie" (the highest court in Belgium), Gishlain Londers, sent a letter to the president of the House of Representatives declaring that there's clear indications that the government has tried to influence the court's functioning and decisions.

Those are serious allegations that touch the base of our democracy: the independance of the different powers. For all was clear that Leterme was dead and all demanded his resignation. Yet the government itself declared that there was a war going on between institutions and that they had done nothing wrong.

Leterme (coming from Ypres) acted as a lonely soldier in the trenches, continuing to fight and being oblivious that the battle was already lost. Or as Yves Desmet wrote in his editorial : the government had been shot dead by the letter but they didn't realise they were politically dead already. So they asked to shoot again: they asked Mr Londers a new letter with more explanation, which he did. On Dec 18th a new letter was received by the parliament stating once more that there are clear indications of influence (a judge's husband, CD&V party member, phoning with the kabinet of the Prime minister, a judge claiming to be ill, more contacts and phone calls). The ministor of Justice immediately resigned at that moment and an hour later Yves Leterme announced the resignation of the entire government....Clearly he didn't want to take the blame alone and took everyone with him. Another political crisis, this time Belgium and its structure was not the point of discussion. The government Leterme I has lasted exactly 9 months.

Somehow I don't think this government truly wanted to influence the court judges. I think they are just such control freaks and didn't think another phone call would do any harm. Stupid if that was the case!!!

And so the king Albert II is busy again, receiving politicians and looking for a way out. No Christmas vacation for him and the recording of his traditional Christmas message had to be postponed as it's not clear what he is supposed to say now (and the message needs to get approved...by the government. hahaha) (although they worked around that on our national holiday as well somehow as on July 21st we were without government as well). And as they showed on the news (reporters are camping at the gate anyway), the queen had to go out on her own as her husband was busy. Did you know she drives the cutest small Italian white Fiat? Pretty cool that she can drive around on her own by the way without a series of security cars behind her tail.

We'll probably get a new government with the same political parties, but some other players (Leterme is not getting on stage anymore for sure) and I'm pretty sure they only try to stay on road until the regional and European elections in June. ....I dare to bet for a lot of money that in June we'll have regional/European AND federal elections all together. By then they need to figure out a way to organise legal elections though if they haven't managed to split up the electoral district around Brussels yet (background here). I think that would be a good thing as the same political parties would be in the coalitions so less competition between regional and federal levels as well. The only ones who oppose to a temporary government is the CD&V. Hmm would they fear losing a lot of votes? I wonder why? They'd better use those 6 months to finally show what good government looks like.

Comments

Lilacspecs said…
Heh, yeah I'm really curious to see how this whole thing will affect the CD&V although I can't say I truly understand the implications of this whole thing. I think the only nice thing about America's political structure is that it's easier to understand. Although the "simplicity" of a bipartisan system definitely robs the people of a true democracy.

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