"The proof of the pudding is in the eating"

The two key players in the preformation talks, Elio Di Rupo (PS) and Bart De Wever (N-VA), have decided that the negotiations can continue. A new working group will be installed to discuss the possible transfers of federal money to the local level. The first reactions are positive, but hesitant.

Most insiders said that things were not looking too good, but before they met on Monday afternoon, Mr Di Rupo and Mr De Wever were seen shaking hands (photo) and this was considered as a positive sign.

Mr Di Rupo and Mr De Wever held talks in the presence of the two royal mediators, Chamber Speaker André Flahaut (PS) and Senate Speaker Danny Pieters (N-VA).

After a meeting of more than four hours, the talks had a positive outcome: the preformation talks will continue after all, and a special working group, the so-called high level group, will be installed to discuss the transfers of federal money to the regions and language communities.

The working group will be chaired by Jan Jambon of the N-VA (photo) and Jean-Claude Marcourt of the PS. Analysts say that the installation of the working group is a move to buy some extra time. But above all, the group should restore the confidence which had been severely harmed.

The Francophone socialists of PS and the Flemish nationalists of N-VA are the key players in the negotiations. However, they are at loggerheads about the present proposals for a big state reform. An agreement on a state reform is necessary before the formation talks can continue. Cash for Brussels and more financial responsibilities for the regions are the main issues on the table.

"I don't know what to expect anymore"

Wouter Beke of the Flemish Christian democrats (CD&V) is hesitant when reporters ask him about the chances of the so-called "high level group".

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating", Mr Beke used an English quote. "We agreed on 12 principles where the funding mechanisms are concerned. It should not be that one principle is being used to wipe out another."

Wouter Van Besien of the Flemish greens is rather sceptical. "I don't know what to expect anymore. I find it strange that we lost two weeks before the negotiations can continue. I hope that the political games are finished now."