Vande Lanotte: "My toughest task ever"

Flemish socialist Johan Vande Lanotte has been asked by King Albert to act as Royal Mediator in an effort to get the federal coalition negotiations back on track. His appointment will give the parties the time to cool off. Mr Vande Lanotte realises that he is in for a big challenge.

Mr Vande Lanotte met with the King at Laken Castle yesterday afternoon and accepted the challenge. Two hours later, he gave a short press conference to comment on his task. "This is the toughest task I have ever faced in my political career," he explained. Mr Vande Lanotte (55) has had a very long political career and is a Minister of State at present.

The Flemish socialist will meet the different parties involved in the talks (the same seven parties, the liberals are not expected to be invited to the table for the time being) to try and break the political deadlock.

At the same time, he consult the National Bank and the Planbureau (the federal bureau concerned with economic forecasts). A former Budget Minister, Mr Vande Lanotte will try to calculate what the exact consequence will be of the so-called financing laws as proposed by the Flemish nationalists. The N-VA has proposed new funding mechanisms for the federal state and the different regions (Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia).

According to the Francophones, this will make Wallonia poorer in the long run. There is a lot of discussion about the exact figures though. Mr Vande Lanotte will try to compile an objective report.

The Royal Mediator will report to King Albert for a first time on 2 November. Until then, he will not talk to the press. No other deadlines having been set, it is unclear how long his royal mandate could continue.

The N-VA is not amused

Most of the seven parties involved in the talks (the Francophone socialists (PS), Christian democrats (CDH) and greens (Ecolo) and the Flemish socialists (SP.A), Christian democrats (CD&V) and greens (Groen!)) are happy with the appointment of Johan Vande Lanotte.

However, the main player in the negotiations, the Flemish nationalists of N-VA, have made it clear that they are not amused. Members of the N-VA can't understand why they haven't been invited by the king, while all the six other parties have.

Moreover, the Flemish nationalists are criticising the length of the mandate. "We hear that Mr Vande Lanotte has been given two or three weeks. You don't need that much time to make the necessary calculations", Geert Bourgeois (photo) told reporters.

Breathing space

On Sunday, the Francophone parties dismissed out of hand a series of proposals contained in a report compiled by the then Royal Clarifier Bart De Wever (Flemish nationalist).

More than four months after the federal elections, an agreement on a new coalition seems further away than ever.

The appointment will also create enough breathing space for the various proposals on the revision of the rules governing how funds are divided up between the federal state and the regions and language communities to be evaluated.

A former Minister, Mr Vande Lanotte is acceptable to both the Flemish nationalists and the Francophone socialists.

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