Correspondent's Choice

This story about the coming Belgian Presidency of the EU was published by EurActiv on 2nd June 2010.

Belgian State Secretary for European Affairs Olivier Chastel says Belgium will give full leeway to the EU’s new front men – Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton – when the divided country takes the rotating EU presidency on 1 July. He spoke to EurActiv in an exclusive interview.

With crucial national elections due on 13 June, just two weeks before it takes the rotating EU presidency for six months, Belgium is reaching a defining moment in its 180-year history.

The Belgian government collapsed in April over a dispute between French- and Dutch-speaking parties regarding electoral boundaries surrounding the capital, Brussels, which is home to the EU institutions (EurActiv 27/04/10).

Belgium is currently being run by a caretaker government, but Olivier Chastel says the elections will not disrupt the presidency too much.

“It is […] possible that a new government will come during the presidency,” conceded the francophone politician from the Mouvement Réformateur (MR), a centre-right party which ranks second, behind the socialists, in the French-speaking half of the country.

However, according to Chastel, several months will probably be needed before the country’s divided political parties – French- and Dutch-speaking – can agree on a coalition programme that will include long-standing state reforms demanded by the Flemish side.

“In Belgium, we have rarely seen a government set up in 10 days. This seems like mission impossible.”

“Objectively, even with the goodwill that some are showing […], I think it will be complicated to achieve it in a few weeks or months. September is often cited. I don’t have a crystal ball but after two months or two-and-a-half months of negotiation, it is possible to see the arrival of a new government.”

But he admits that all options are open after the election. “We have no crystal ball, nor do we have any idea of how things will develop.”

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