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After a week's reflection, Belgian King Albert II refused to accept
After a week's reflection, Belgian King Albert II refused to accept Prime Minister Yves Leterme's resignation, and instructed him on July 18 to continue fulfilling his functions.

Leterme decided to leave on the night of July 15, having announced his failure to reach a Flemish-Walloon consensus on a government reform, and settle a protracted political crisis.

At the same time, the king mandated a panel of three veteran Belgian politicians to study the positions of the French- and Dutch-speaking parties, find common ground between them, and, by the end of the month, offer recommendations for saving the nation. Belgium is in serious trouble. They must find a way out of linguistic enmity and economic imbalance.

Nobody considers the country's split by linguistic borders inevitable but some analysts are hinting that Belgium may follow Czechoslovakia's recent example.

The Belgian King is the most miserable monarch in Europe. Instead of stamping government decrees or parliamentary laws like his foreign counterparts, or preparing for the national holiday on July 21 (his predecessor Leopold I took the constitutional oath of office on that day in 1831 after Belgium became independent from the Netherlands), Albert II has to talk endlessly with his prime ministers and party leaders to make them stop their disputes and decide Belgium's destiny.

The King-appointed panel includes three men. Two of them are Walloons, or French-speaking Belgians - Christian Democrat, Raymond Langendries, and Liberal, Francois-Xavier de Donnea. The third man is Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Minister-President of the German-speaking community. Flemish representatives are notably absent. Belgian newspapers explain this absence by blaming the attitude of the Dutch-speaking politicians who do not believe that their French-speaking counterparts are sincerely interested in further talks.

Appointment of a German to the panel is a bold step, but what will it lead to? The Dutch-speaking majority of the Belgian north, the Flemish (almost six million or 60% of the total) have always disliked the French-speaking minority in the south, the Walloons (almost four million or 40%). They have only one thing in common: A dislike of the tiny German community (about 73,000 people) in the southernmost region. Nevertheless, the King consulted the leaders of all national parties, and this may have been the only option.

Belgium is the clearest example of Europe's fractious legacy. It suffers from several separatist, nationalist, linguistic, and religious chronic ailments. In the last 30 years, the country has had one crisis after another. Leterme took oath only on March 20 of this year. In the previous nine months Belgium had no government because both the Flemish and the Walloons failed to form a cabinet after the elections on June 10 of the last year. Twenty years ago, in 1988, it did not have a government for 148 days. This quandary is going from bad to worse. The stumbling block is the decentralization of power, a desire to give more authority to the regions.

The francophone community is convinced that the Flemish are engineering a split. They insist that the central government should reduce subsidies to the regions, and that the provincial authorities should receive the right to pass laws regulating employment, introduce corporate taxes, distribute social aid, and determine expenses on education and medicine. The Walloons argue that this will give the Flanders the status of a state within a state, which will destroy the country. The Flemish reply that the Flanders no longer wants to pull the lazy south, and doesn't want to share its legitimately earned money with it. Indeed, Wallonia receives government subsidies of up to 10 billion Euros every year, unlike prosperous Flanders.

Another point at issue is a change in the constituencies' borders. If the Flemish have it their way, the Walloons may lose votes in Brussels. And Brussels is one more Belgian paradox. Brussels, the capital of Belgium and of Europe, is mostly populated by Walloons but is located in the Dutch-speaking Flanders.

The Belgian people have a very calm attitude toward this political strife. They do not want their lovely country to be divided into the Flemish Koninkrijk Belgie, the French Royaume Belgique, and the German Konigreich Belgien, but their politicians are capable of doing this. Now they have to wait and see whether the panel finds a way out of the predicament.

Legal analysts say it would be best to pass this problem to European specialists on constitutional law since the Flemish and the Walloons appear unable to resolve this Belgian dilemma.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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