Belgium yesterday. Belgium today.

Belgium is dead, long live Belgium!

On 11 October, after 485 days without a government, Elio Di Rupo — who will likely be Belgium’s next prime minister — and his Flemish and Francophone partners presented a global agreement on state reforms. The compromise deal, which has been viewed as heaven sent, will stabilise the country and pave the way for an end to its long-drawn out political crisis.

Published on 12 October 2011 at 15:00
Belgium yesterday. Belgium today.

Along with a plan to divide the bilingual arrondissement of Bruxelles-Hal-Vilvorde (BHV), which led to a breakthrough in negotiations, the main points of the agreement are more federalism with greater autonomy for the country’s regions (Flanders, which represents more than 50% of federal resources, Walloonia and Brussels Capital) in matters of taxation, social security, employment policy and the administration of the highway code. The duration of the federal government’s mandate will also be extended from four to five years to ensure that the country will no longer be subject to permanently ongoing election campaigns.

Mesdames, messieurs, nous avons un accord!”, headlines Dutch language newspaper De Morgen. The Flemish daily quotes the exact words of Di Rupo’s announcement of the text negotiated with the probable members of a future coalition government. “At last,” writes the newspaper’s political editor Steven Samyn -


... surrounded by eight negotiators, the formateur declared: ‘We have an agreement that will enable our country to evolve and stabilise.’ And there is no better way of stating it. The sixth constitutional reform of the Belgian state will be an evolution, whose goal is to shift more of the heavy weight of the Belgian state onto its federal components, rather than a revolution. – De Morgen

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“At last!” remarks in a similar vein La Libre Belgique. In the Brussels daily, columnist Francis Van de Woestyne tips his hat to “the principal artisan of the negotiations, Elio Di Rupo” -


There’s no denying the energy, the patience, the ability to listen, and the creativity that he had to demonstrate to reach this point. Having desperately tried and failed to find a positive solution with [leader Flemish nationalist] Bart De Wever […], Elio Di Rupo had to make do with partners that were in many ways as fragile and unpredictable, as they were divided. It should be said that he was the only politician, in a country that ran the risk of breaking up under pressure from divisive and selfish forces, who had the capacity to bring together the North and the South as well as the left and the right. – La Libre Belgique

For the Le Soir’s leading columnist, Béatrice Delvaux, the main winner in all of this is not di Rupo, but Belgium:


We have to bear in mind how hopeless the situation seemed. We will have to remember the many times when it appeared that all was lost — including Belgium, which only narrowly escaped extinction — in gauging the importance of this development. Belgium has to be the main winner by sole virtue of the fact that it is still on its feet and still ready to move forward. Yes, Belgium, but a Belgium that will no longer be the same: from now on its driving forces will be its regions and communities, and its survival in its current form is at best hypothetical. However, we should recognise that this old entity, which had flirted with its own extinction, has miraculously and ingeniously succeeded in transforming itself, through the patient and intelligent effort to re-establish equilibrium, and offer concessions to all sides. […] However, let there be no doubt about it: the constitutional reform will mark the end of federal Belgium as we know it. And many of us are convinced, even if they do not wish to be, that this is not the final scene in the film. In this regard, perhaps the main victor is the one politician that remains absent from the family photo presented by the negotiations, nationalist leader Bart De Wever, who has succeeded in convincing everyone of his principle point — that Belgium in its (current) manifestation no longer makes much sense. – Le Soir

Finally in De Standaard, columnist Guy Tegenbos, remarks on the “pretty” name attributed to the reform, the “Bow-Tie Agreement,” which is largely at odds with its content:


The Bow-tie Agreement that bow-tie wearer Di Rupo presented yesterday, is a typical Belgian state reform package. Just like the fifth package that preceded it, the sixth reform will include many pages of agreements. But there is no general line. The reform does not reflect a common vision, but was born from a clash of two visions which remain opposed on virtually every point. A great deal of effort was required to determine a list of pieces that would satisfy that both blocs. And then all of these were sewn together in a patchwork. […] Di Rupo has achieved his mission impossible, but the Belgium that will result from his endeavour will be neither wonderful nor exciting. What we will have is a Belgium 6.0. that is set to pave the way for Belgium 7.0. […] — a truce that will give both sides [the Francophones and the Flemings] a little of what they demanded, so that they will accept it as an interim solution. – De Standaard

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