"Deal first" says Mr Reynders

The leader of the Francophone liberals, Didier Reynders, has called for guarantees for a strengthening of the federal state to be part and parcel of any talks on new state reforms after the 13 June General Election. Mr Reynders was speaking on VRT's current affairs flagship programme "Terzake".

Mr Reynders, the outgoing Finance Minister, restated his willingness to discuss major state reforms after the election. Negotiations should lead to a deal setting out the broad outlines of the reform by the autumn.

Unlike the leader of the Francophone Christian democrats, Joëlle Milquet, Mr Reynders is eager to tackle community issues first and not put off decisions till later.

The Francophone liberal supremo identifies espousing a willingness to continue living together in Belgium as a precondition to getting a place at the talks' table. If this is present, Mr Reynders is prepared to discuss the transfer of powers to the regions. These could include some parts of justice and labour market legislation.

Mr Reynders’s warning seems to be directed at the Flemish nationalist N-VA. The party could become Belgium’s largest political party after the elections, but sees a federation of two Belgian states only as a stepping stone to full-blown independence.

In return Mr Reynders hopes that the Flemish take on board some of the issues dear to the hearts of French-speakers including a strengthening of the Federal State. He is thinking of a federal constituency that would allow people from across the country to vote for national political figures from across the linguistic divide.

Mr Reynders told Terzake's Kathleen Cools that he also wanted to see proper funding of the Federal State.

On the economy Mr Reynders is clear: the budget should be balanced as soon as possible. This will require savings including a leaner state apparatus and greater charging for services like e.g. motorway maintenance.

Mr Reynders also favours lower taxes on labour in order to boost employment.