Correspondent's Choice

This story about the coming Belgian Presidency of the EU was published by EurActiv on 29th June 2010.

Belgium takes the EU’s rotating presidency on Thursday (1 July) with no less than its national unity at stake as ongoing government coalition talks seek to achieve a make or break internal reform. But unsolved internal problems by no means prevent Belgian politicians from “thinking big” about the Union, EurActiv has found.

Some in Belgium may fear for the country’s unity, but Europe needs not worry about Belgium steering the EU during the next six months.

This was the message consistently delivered to the Brussels-based media in recent days by the highest-level Belgian politicians.

Although the official target date to form a government is September, speaking off the record, Belgian officials admit that the country could well continue with the present caretaker cabinet throughout the EU presidency.

“Everything is possible,” one minister in Yves Leterme’s government told EurActiv, admitting that the timing for setting up a new cabinet could offer surprises either way.

“Belgium is the country of René Magritte,” a high official added, referring to the Belgian surrealist painter, known for portraying a pipe carrying the message “This is not a pipe”.

In a trait of humour, the famous painting even appears on the personal web page of Didier Reynders, finance minister and president of the French-speaking liberal party MR (Mouvement Réformateur).

Belgian officials said no information had filtered from ongoing government consultation talks led by Flemish nationalist leader Bart De Wever. But they assumed that a government could be formed only when a basic agreement is reached over the internal state reforms which have caused Leterme to step down three times over the last three years.

Belgian politicians have failed to agree on the redefinition of electoral boundaries around the capital Brussels and on the future financing of social and health care systems in French-speaking Walloonia, which richer Flanders refuses to continue sponsoring.

Insiders of the Belgian political scene said both problems could find solutions.

“The financing formulas [of social and health care] are so complicated that nobody can understand them. This is done on purpose and it’s better this way,” one minister in the federal government said. He explained that this would help save face on both sides.

However, splitting the bi-lingual electoral district of Brussels-Hal-Vilvoorde (BHV) was seen in terms of a zero-sum game, which does not make things easier, he said.

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