Ostend, where Machiavelli could learn a thing or two

The situation in Ostend remains confused as the parties elected to the local council on Sunday continue to bicker about who should join the local administration.

The liberals have tied their lot to the Christian democrats and together they hope to form a 4-party coalition with Flemish nationalists and greens.  Stadslijst (City List), the reincarnation of the socialists, remains the biggest party on the council and favours a left-leaning coalition topped up with the centrist liberals, even though socialist supremo Crombez gave the centre-right Flemish nationalists a bell as soon as the results were in!

Clearly there is little love lost between the liberals and the socialists, who, topped up with Christian democrats, formed the last administration in our premier seaside resort.

The greens' Wouter De Vriendt, by the way, is no fan of the liberals’ plan for a coalition with nationalists and ecologists and believes a progressive project for the city could be put on the rails together with the socialists, but calls on them to make a sacrifice: they should allow the liberals' Bart Tommelein to become mayor.

Bart Tommelein, the Flemish budget minister, and liberal supremo, who piled up the votes on Sunday, has now offered to talk with the socialists who made significant losses on Sunday.  At the same time Mr Tommelein accuses Stadslijst's John Crombez of treacherous behaviour: "Mr Crombez gave the Flemish nationalists a bell with the idea of forming a coalition without the liberals." The initiative for talks between liberals and socialists really came from socialist John Crombez.  The fact that he is taking the initiative, and not the outgoing socialist mayor, is seen as significant.  Mr Tommelein got more preferential votes than the outgoing mayor, socialist elder statesman Johan Vande Lanotte.  Seen as a stumbling block by many the socialists may now be ready to sacrifice Mr Vande Lanotte.

Mr Tommelein says he's a polite individual and will talk to Mr Crombez, but it won't be an easy conversation. The liberal supremo accuses Mr Crombez of great treachery: "He always said he wouldn't work with the Flemish nationalists, but gave them a bell when the results were in.  The socialists always said 'Never with the nationalists'."

Mr Crombez says his conversation with the N-VA was a courtesy call.

On Thursday then the liberals' Mr Tommelein and the greens' Mr De Vriendt met.  The liberals have now dropped their veto to Stadslijst, but are refusing to include Groen if Stadslijst is part of the coalition.  They still prefer a liberal/nationalist/green administration.  Meanwhile Stadslijst and the greens are refusing to form a coalition as long as they are not both included.  Little headway was made at the meeting, but both parties will meet again next week!

(Our picture shows Johan Vande Lanotte and Bart Tommelein in happier days.)