King Albert asks Wouter Beke to negotiate

The Belgian monarch has appointed a new negotiator to lead efforts to unblock the political stalemate in Belgium. As expected it's Wouter Beke, the Flemish Christian democrat leader.

A communiqué from the Royal Palace on Wednesday announced that King Albert has asked Mr Beke to prepare a new package of state reforms.

The appointment follows a day of speculation. On Tuesday the former Francophone liberal leader, Didier Reynders, handed King Albert his final report following a one month mission aimed at discovering whether the parties were willing to negotiate an agreement on state reforms. Mr Reynders concluded that the political will was present, though he did not identify the parties that would take part in this process.

On Wednesday afternoon, 262 days after last June's general election, Wouter Beke was invited to the Palace. He stayed for barely an hour and left with the job of negotiating a deal. Mr Beke has the task of preparing an agreement on state reforms. As was the case with Mr Reynders, his brief seems to be limited to the devolutionary process. He has not been asked to form a government or negotiate a government agreement.

For many months now Mr Beke's Flemish Christian democrats have been reluctant to take the lead in finding an exit to the political stalemate. They lost heavily in the June election. In recent weeks there has been a growing consensus that it was now the turn of the Flemish Christian democrats.

Political commentators suggest that the mission of Mr Beke's predecessor, Didier Reynders, yielded few results. Wouter Beke is the seventh politician to receive a royal task following last year's general election.

At a news conference in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon Mr Beke noted that since the election his CD&V party had underlined the need for the Francophone socialists and Flemish nationalists to form the backbone of the new government. He said that he would execute his task with the leaders of these two parties as privileged partners.

Mr Beke repeatedly used the word 'responsibility'. "The CD&V has acted with great responsibility for months. We have collaborated with the state reform talks in a responsible way and have also taken our responsibilities in the outgoing administration. King Albert has now given me an extra mission."

"I hope that all nine parties will adopt a constructive approach. I am asking for discretion, trust and a responsible approach. Hopefully, a Formateur, who can reach a definitive accord and form a new government, can succeed me."