Belgium government wins confidence vote

AFP , Saturday 10 Dec 2011

Belgium sees the end of a 541-day political crisis after new government wins parliament confidence vote

Belgium's new government won a parliamentary confidence vote Saturday, the last hurdle in resolving a political crisis in the linguistically divided country that lasted a record-breaking 541 days.

Of 143 deputies present, 89 voted in favour of the six-party administration headed by Elie Di Rupo, a French-speaking socialist, with 54, notably Flemish separatists, against.

Di Rupo's government of six ministers from thriving Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and six from struggling French-speaking Wallonia in the south was sworn in on Tuesday but faces an uphill battle to tackle problems at the root of the deadlock.

As divisions sharpen between its two parts, the country that plays host to global institutions such as the European Union and NATO is struggling to remain united around a joint political and economic vision.

The 6.5 million people of Flanders resent funding the 4.5 million of southern Wallonia, and the government was only formed when the powerful separatist N-VA Party was excluded from the lengthy coalition talks.

The N-VA, which refuses to call Di Rupo prime minister, the extreme right Flemish Vlaams Belang, a French-speaking federalist party and the Greens of both communities voted against the government on Saturday.

In his speech before the vote Di Rupo pledged, "We will be the government of profound and lasting change, but without breaking our social model, our life in common and our federal model."

He is Belgium's first French-speaking premier in more than three decades and the first socialist at its helm since 1974.

Top of his agenda is a planned 11.3 billion Euros in budget cuts, the toughest austerity measures in 70 years.

It took soaring borrowing costs and a Standard & Poor's downgrade from AA+ to AA late last month to jolt Belgium's politicians to put aside their differences and clinch a coalition deal.

With debt at 96 per cent of GDP last year, just behind Greece and Italy in the eurozone, the coalition has pledged to balance the books by 2015 but many economists say Belgium might not achieve the 0.8 per cent growth the budget foresees.

The government, an unlikely alliance of Socialists, Christian Democrats and Liberals from both sides of Belgium's language divide, also plans further devolution of powers to regional assemblies.

But having already lost a year and a half to the haggling, Di Rupo has only two and a half left.

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