Eighteen months later, the Flemish politician is still a central figure. With BHV sorted, there are still budgetary and socio-economic policies for the negotiators – socialists, Christian-democrats and liberals –to agree on.
De Croo is the exact ideological opposite of Elio Di Rupo, the French-speaking socialist who is set to become prime minister. While Di Rupo believes in more income (read: extra taxes) to get Belgium out of its budgetary pickle, De Croo is all for budgetary cuts. Neither of them have shown themselves flexible on the matter so far, although Di Rupo’s ultimate proposal, which he made last Sunday, surprised many. Still, De Croo said no.
That Open VLD is intransigent on budgetary issues should not surprise anyone: They are the party’s core business. Moreover, N-VA, Flanders’ largest party, which will be in the opposition federally, holds down views that often seem more liberal than those of the liberals. Also, Open VLD argues, a price should be paid by the party that gets the prime minister. That’s the way it has always been in Belgium.
These arguments are understandable, but De Croo’s attitude still irks many of the negotiators. Meanwhile, Leterme, caretaker prime minister ad infinitum, is preparing a temporary budget for 2012, in the knowledge that the definite budget will probably not be agreed and voted on by the end of this year.
The public at large has become even more irritated by the endless negotiations, especially as it is often warned about imminent attacks on this country by the financial markets.
Why, some people ask, are the talks always held at night? Is that just another manifestation of the machismo that is holding back an agreement?
Maybe, some people say, it is time we “pull the plug” on these talks. Unfortunately, that does not bring a government – let alone a budget for 2012 – any closer.