King Albert launches cooling-off period

Belgium’s King Albert has started a series of meetings with party leaders after the Francophone socialist leader, Elio Di Rupo, on Wednesday agreed to pursue his efforts to reach a seven-party deal on state reforms.

Flemish nationalist leader, Bart De Wever, saw King Albert at Laken Castle on Thursday morning. The king has appointments with a further six other party leaders.

Wednesday was a day of high political suspense as the country eagerly awaited the outcome of the meeting between the monarch and Mr Di Rupo. The Francophone socialist leader has been involved in talks aimed at brokering a deal on state reforms, a prerequisite to government formation days, for many weeks.

Would Mr Di Rupo throw in the towel or would King Albert ask him to soldier on?

In the event King Albert asked Mr Di Rupo to continue his efforts, which he agreed. The Francophone socialist leader will resume his mediation on Saturday.

Between then and now King Albert will see the party leaders. Political analysts say that the crisis triggered by disagreement about whether or not to change the funding mechanisms under which the regions and the state receive cash has been resolved.

Sensitive issues including making the regions and communities financially responsible for their policy decisions and possible changes to the financing law have still not been cleared up though.

Mr Di Rupo broached these subjects at his news conference following his meeting with the monarch, but tellingly he added that those around the table disagree profoundly about these issues.

He warned his audience that he would not allow any citizen to become poorer as a result of the reforms: “If this principle is not accepted, then it will be very difficult to continue the talks. Flemish parties have welcomed the extra time now granted to Mr Di Rupo, but are now eager to see what they will be allowed to discuss as part of demands to reform the funding of the regions and communities.