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Belgian report Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2011-01-10 09:11:41
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Belgium renews efforts to form a new government

Since Belgium's election in June 2010, the parties have failed to form a coalition. A new proposal by Belgium's latest mediator tries to find a compromise for the two deeply divided Flanders and Wallonia regions.  After six months of failed negotiations to form a government, Belgian politicians ring in the next round with a fresh proposal introduced by mediator Johan Vande Lanotte on Monday. Socialist Lanotte, who was appointed by King Albert II back in October to end the impasse between the seven political parties, has a long way to go as the Dutch-speaking north and the French-speaking south are deeply divided over a number of issues.

The recent proposal is not likely to speed things up, as it will still take several months before a new coalition will come into office, said Professor Kris Deschouwer, an expert on Belgian politics. "The politicians are afraid of losing their voters. They have made strong promises and now fear a face-losing compromise. So they try to postpone it as much as they can," he told Deutsche Welle. As the Belgium electorate has proven to be very volatile, with Belgium's now strongest party, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), almost disappearing in the 2003 elections when it barely managed to reach the 5 percent threshold, no politician wants to take the blame for unfullfilled promises. And Belgian politicians did a great deal of "overpromising", as Deschouwer put it. And now, their promises are catching them out.

"The tension is not about language, it's about money," Deschouwer said. According to him, the language problem has been settled, even though there might still be some tensions in the neighborhoods of Brussels. "It's because they have different economic backgrounds." Flanders, the richer, Dutch-speaking part, demands greater autonomy and fiscal independence, whereas Wallonia, the French-speaking region, wants more solidarity and shuns autonomy out of fear it might lose benefits.  "There is not enough pressure coming from the outside," said Deschouwer. "If the financial markets started looking at Belgium, negotiations would suddenly go very fast."  The recent threat of the ratings agency Standard & Poor's to cut down Belgium's credit ratings within six months fails to create a state of urgency for Belgium, as six months is a very long time, he added. 

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'De-baptism' in Belgium in wake of child abuse scandal


The child abuse scandals rocking Belgium's powerful Catholic Church are also shaking the faith of followers, with more and more people asking to be struck off baptism registers -- a global movement known as "de-baptism". "When you don't agree with an organisation that you never chose to join in the first place, the healthiest thing to do is to leave," Damien Spleeters told AFP. In this mainly Catholic country of 10 million people, the 24-year-old is among a growing crowd exasperated by church policy on issues such as AIDS, and angered by revelations last year of massive child abuse by priests and lay workers.

After reports in April that the Bishop of Bruges had sexually abused his own nephew for 13 years, starting when the boy was five, a church-backed commission in September issued graphic testimony of nearly 500 cases of child abuse by priests and lay workers, including 13 victims who committed suicide. Spleeters last year wrote to the bishop overseeing the parish where his parents had him christened as a baby to announce he no longer wanted the church "to speak in his name" so was requesting to be struck off the baptism register.

"Whilst we deplore your decision," replied Abbot Jean-Pierre Lorette, "the Catholic Church respects each individual's freedom and will not hold back against their will those who wish to leave it." Spleeters, the priest added, was in consequence "logically" excommunicated. In an interview, the young Brussels resident said "I don't consider myself an atheist" but explained he turned to de-baptism due to growing irritation with the Catholic hierarchy. The move was not uncommon, said Daniel Leclerq of the group "Friends of Secular Morality". "Pope Benedict XVI's statements against condoms, the appointment of a conservative -- Andre-Joseph Leonard -- to head the Belgian church in early 2010, and the child abuse revelations have led to a hike in de-baptisms," Leclerq said.

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Belgium’s King to tackle political deadlock as debt woes mount


Belgium’s king will make a fresh bid to end the 211-day post-election deadlock that has left the country without a full-time government and fanned concern that Europe’s debt crisis will widen. Belgium’s 10-year borrowing costs jumped to an almost two- year high last week, prompting business leaders to demand an immediate coalition deal between feuding parties in the Dutch- speaking north and French-speaking south.

“Financial markets will be merciless if the country doesn’t extricate itself from this unprecedented hell as soon as possible,” billionaire financier Albert Frere told Le Soir newspaper. Belgium is in the crossfire as bond auctions this week in Portugal and Spain will test whether investors have faith in steps by European governments to quell the debt woes haunting the 17-nation euro economy. For the first time, investors view western European government bonds as riskier than emerging- market debt, the Markit iTraxx SovX Western Europe Index of credit-default swaps showed last week.

European leaders may discuss expanding the 750 billion-euro ($965 billion) financial backstop for indebted nations at their next summit, Handelsblatt reported yesterday, citing German government officials it didn’t identify. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she opposes increasing government-funded aid for euro countries and her chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said yesterday that “no decision has been taken about widening the rescue fund.”


        
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