The VRT current affairs radio programme "De ochtend" invited Gwendolyn Rutten (liberal, Open VLD), Bruno Tobback (socialist, SP.A) and Servais Verherstraeten (Christian democrat, CD&V) to the studio.
All three traditional Flemish parties are becoming more and more annoyed by the way the N-VA is behaving during the talks on a state reform. The political stalemate has been continuing for more than ten months now, and all three expressed their irritation, targeting the Flemish nationalists.
On Friday, N-VA leader Bart De Wever set the cat among the pigeons by saying that time is really running out to reach an accord. By the end of April, he wants clarity on the outcome of the talks, setting an actual deadline in this way.
"Time is never up", Mr Verherstraeten reacted this morning. "Walking away from the table is not an alternative. I presume that the N-VA will not leave its million voters in the cold." Mr Verherstraeten's colleague with CD&V, Wouter Beke, is presently heading the talks on a new state reform as Royal Mediator.
"It's time to take a clear position", Ms Rutten added. "The reality today is that we have not reached anything so far."
Mr Tobback finds that the N-VA is to blame for the fact that the negotiations seem to be going on forever. "It's because of the N-VA that the different parties have not been together at the table since January. I just ask myself the question: "What is he doing?""
At the same time, Mr Tobback is surprised by the fact that the N-VA maintains its leading position in the opinion polls. "The more air is going into the balloon, the more it seems to drift away from reality. (...) It's about time that the winner of last June's federal elections stops playing games."
Mr Verherstraeten blames Mr De Wever for going solo. "It would be better if he consulted other parties a bit more, like Elio Di Rupo is doing in Wallonia. Mr De Wever is the political leader in Flanders at the moment. He should take more soundings from the other Flemish parties, which would prevent irritation from emerging and which would allow him to make more headway."
With or without the N-VA?
Mr Verherstraeten is still convinced that the N-VA should be part of the new government. "It's evident that the Francophone socialists (PS) and the N-VA will make up the backbone of the new federal government."
Ms Rutten is not so sure any longer. "It doesn't matter which party makes the government, as long as it has a clear plan for the future and as long as it is taking a clear direction."
She also repeats the request launched by the Flemish liberals to start parallel talks about a socio-economic programme, instead of just focusing on a state reform.
"For us, there is no deadline"
All three politicians stress that an ample state reform is really necessary. No new government without guarantees on this state reform, they claim. However, Ms Rutten adds this: "We also want a Belgium which is functioning more efficiently. However, I see that there is one party which doesn't: the N-VA. There is also one party that refuses to speak out on its eventual aim in these talks: the N-VA."
Mr Verherstraeten stressed that there is no deadline, as far as he is concerned. "Wouter Beke will continue as long as he thinks that he can make progress." New elections are not an option for the three politicians. But after this morning, the atmosphere has changed. A government without the winners of the elections in Flanders, the N-VA, seemed impossible at first but is now becoming more and more of an option.