State reforms: it's a deal at last!

The eight political parties negotiating the formation of a new Belgian Government have struck a deal on state reforms. Inability to reach agreement on a major new package of state reforms has been holding up the government formation process for over a year.

The negotiators had been making steady progress in recent weeks including a deal on the splitting of the Brussels Halle Vilvoorde Constituency. On Friday night the negotiators reached agreement on the final stumbling blocks.

In future the federal, regional and European elections may all be staged at the same time. Starting 2014 the Federal Parliament will be elected for a full five year term instead of the present four years. This is already the case for the Flemish and European Parliaments.

In future federal and European elections will be staged at the same time, once every five years. The regions and the communities may decide to vary election dates by a week or so, but only if there is a two-thirds majority in favour in the relevant parliament.

If the Federal Government collapses during the course of a parliament, the newly established government will only serve the remainder of the five year term. In this way the fixed timetable for elections will not be affected. Under the present political deal the new electoral system will only be introduced after the next election, if a two thirds majority can be found in the new parliament.

New powers for the regions

On Friday the negotiators agreed to hand responsibility for some parts of traffic policy to the regions. Essential issues would stay with the Federal Government, but the regional governments will be able to decide speed limits on regional roads. Speed limits on motorways and the side of the road that Belgians use as well as the aspect of our road sings remain a matter for the federal authorities.

The regions become responsible for the requirements regarding the training needed in order to take a driving test and road signs in the event of works. Fines will be collected by the regions. The Belgian Traffic Safety Institute will be split.

The negotiators have decided that control of the fire service and the civil protection service will remain with the Federal Government.

The parties have also agreed a set of measures that should help restore public confidence in our politicians. In future ministers will have to attend a hearing before they take office as already happens for European Commissioners in the European Parliament. Politicians will also have to stop the practice of standing for elections for assemblies in which they have no intention of sitting. Flemish MPs who stand for the Federal Parliament and are elected will have to resign from the Flemish Parliament and serve in the Federal Parliament.

This weekend aides of Francophone socialist leader Elio Di Rupo will finalise the texts. On Monday the parties will give the documents a final reading and on Tuesday Mr Di Rupo will present the deal in Parliament.

What was agreed earlier?

Last week negotiators struck a deal on the reform of the finance law that settles the funding of the federal state, the communities and the regions. The regions get greater tax autonomy, in all worth 10.7 billion euros.

Powers over child allowance and parts of health care and employment policy are transferred to the regions too. These powers represent some 17 billion euros worth of expenditure. The Brussels Region gets a present of 461 million euros, while regions that implement efficient employment policies are rewarded, those that don't are punished.

The electoral and judicial districts of Brussels Halle Vilvoorde are split. There is a special arrangement for Francophones in the six Flemish municipalities where they enjoy special rights.

Three contested Francophone mayors in Flanders can stay in the job as "acting mayors".

There is also a deal on the Brussels Region. Street cleaning because an exclusive responsibility of the municipalities, though the police will have to co-operate more readily between the police zones and mobility policy will be harmonised and centralised.