Government formation talks have started!

For the first time in nearly a year representatives of Flemish and Francophone parties that are hopeful to form a new government have been reunited around the same negotiating table. The eight parties have agreed how they will proceed and a formal agenda for the government formation talks.

The first set of talks will centre on state reforms including the splitting of the controversial constituency of Brussels Halle Vilvoorde (BHV).

Apart from the meeting on the Belgian National Holiday when the Flemish Christian democrat leader Wouter Beke set out his party's reservations to starting formal talks this is the first time in nearly a year that all eight parties have met face-to-face.

The Flemish and Francophone Christian democrats, socialists, liberals and greens have agreed a working method and an agenda. On Saturday the talks led by the Francophone socialist leader Elio Di Rupo will focus on BHV. By the end of next week it should be clear how this issue will be sorted.

Other issues up for discussion include the finance law that sets out the funding of the federal state and the devolved authorities as well as state reforms. Mr Di Rupo hopes to reach agreement on state reforms by 10 September. Otherwise outgoing Premier Yves Leterme (Flemish Christian democrat) will take charge of drafting next year's budget.

One to one with Mr Beke

Formateur Di Rupo earlier met the Flemish Christian democrat leader Wouter Beke separately. Mr Beke repeated his party's insistence that state reforms must be agreed before social economic issues can be discussed. The talks will proceed on the basis of eight proposals formulated by the Formateur, but Francophone parties have already promised amendments.

Mr Beke told newsmen: "I hope it can go quickly and proceed discretely."

Mr Di Rupo also spoke with the leader of the Flemish greens, Wouter Van Besien. Mr Van Besien insisted that together with the Francophone greens of Ecolo he hoped to enter the new government. He also pointed to the need to secure a two-thirds majority in Parliament in order to press ahead with state reforms and reminded newsmen that his five MPs were needed to reach this hurdle.