6 Jan 2011

Record period without govt in Belgium

12:32 pm on 6 January 2011

It's almost seven months since Belgium had a government. Even for Belgium, that's a record.

But there are signs that political parties are close to getting back to the negotiating table.

However, the BBC reports any deal hinges on big reforms of the state.

Politicians have until Wednesday to consider a new plan for forming a government.

Seven political parties have been discussing the details since a general election in June, but finally there are signs of movement.

French-speaking Walloons want greater protection and more money for the region around the capital, Brussels.

The Flemish population is seeking more control over tax policy.

The parties have been given a blueprint by Johan Vande Lanotte, the latest mediator appointed by the king to find a compromise.

The question is whether any solution will be acceptable to both sides.

Deep-seated problems

The BBC reports the political problems in Belgium are deep-seated and complex, but there is little outward sign that anything is wrong.

There is no anarchy on the streets, the buses run as they always did and Belgians themselves do not seem to be too worried about their lack of national leadership.

A caretaker government in place since the elections is widely thought to be doing quite a good job. Regional governments also become increasingly powerful, managing major policy areas such as education and culture.

But Belgium's public debt level is very high - almost 100% of GDP.

The BBC reports a new government is needed to adopt a new budget that will take the necessary reforms, including pension reform to bring those levels down.

What if?

But what will happen if the political parties fail to agree on a compromise this week?

There could be further coalition talks, involving political parties that have not yet been part of the negotiations.

But these would take more time. There could also be new elections but this would undoubtedly send a bad signal to the outside world.

Meanwhile, such a stretch without a government is a record for Belgium and it is still unclear how long this situation still has left to run.