Government negotiations: King now has to break the impasse
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    Government negotiations: King now has to break the impasse

    Koen Geens (right) arrives at the royal palace to hand in his resignation to the king © Belga

    King Philippe will today begin what is expected to be three days of consultations with party leaders to try to solve the problem caused at the weekend with the sudden resignation of the man he appointed to do that for him: federal justice minister Koen Geens.

    However, before he even begins, things are not looking promising.

    Sunday in Belgium is the day when the big guns are rolled out on the various TV discussion programmes which tend to set the political agenda for the week to come.

    Geens (CD&V) appeared on the VRT programme De Zevende Dag, and hit out at PS president Paul Magnette.

    Magnette – who had previously been tasked by the king with the job of exploring a possible coalition – had always pressed for his ideal coalition, the so-called purple-green, with socialists, liberals and greens, as well as Geens’ own CD&V.

    Geens, however, battled for a purple-yellow coalition, with the addition of N-VA, the largest party in Flanders and essential to maintain the unwritten rule that any federal government must reflect the balance of the two main regions.

    Finally, Magnette made it clear that he simply would not contemplate sitting in a government which included N-VA. And with that, all possibility of Geens achieving his mission vanished.

    On Friday, unexpectedly, he visited the royal palace and asked the king to relieve him of his mission. The king accepted.

    On the VRT, Geens complained bitterly. “I might have wished to be granted a more elegant exit than that boot out the door on Friday morning,” he said, using the rather blunt term “ezelstamp” or donkey-kick, signifying a dismissal without ceremony.

    Nobody deserves that, and in particular not yours truly, after all that effort,” he went on.

    Magnette, meanwhile, was not prepared to allow Geens’ interpretation of the situation to pass.

    It was his own decision to resign, because we were prepared to try out other formulas,” he told Belga. “Clearly he was not, since CD&V wanted an alliance between PS and N-VA.”

    And he came as close as possible to claiming Geens had lied, when he claimed that CD&V had not been involved in discussions during the time Magnette was on a mission from the king.

    That’s completely false,” Magnette said. “There were bilateral talks with CD&V on 9 and 12 November. One meeting on 15 November was cancelled because Mr Geens said he had no mandate [from his party]. A final meeting was held on 5 December. So there was in the end one fewer meeting with CD&V than with the other parties.”

    And so, on Monday afternoon, the king will begin himself to receive party representatives, having given them the time on Monday morning to attend meeting of their various party executives.

    It is now more or less nine months since the federal elections, and the country is still in the hands of an outgoing caretaker government. But Belgium has been here before, and holds the record for the longest period without a government following an election.

    The king is giving himself three days, in which he will attempt to impose some serenity on a heated situation.

    On Monday afternoon, he will first receive Maxime Prévot, president of cdH, followed by Meyrem Almaci (Groen) and Bart De Wever (N-VA). The other parties involved in the formation of a government will follow. Exceptions being Vlaams Belang and the far-left PTB/PVDA alliance.

    On Wednesday His Majesty will visit the headquarters of the national social security service, which is marking its 75th anniversary. Only after that will we know how this long-running drama will proceed.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times