Nicolas Maeterlinck

Row over abortion vote brings talks on new federal government to a halt

The talks on the formation of a new federal government have been brought to halt after a vote (that in the end didn’t take place) on a new abortion bill caused discord between the Flemish Christian democrats and the Francophone liberals. The leaders of the Flemish Christian democrats and the Flemish and Francophone liberal have been holding consultative talks with other party leaders to try and find a way out of the political impasse that have left Belgium without a majority federal government for more than a year. 

The Flemish Christian democrat leader Joachim Coens says that he wants the Francophone liberal leader Georges-Louis Bouchez to send out a signal in order to restore trust between their respective parties. This would involve moves towards a new bill on abortion being put on hold and policies to facilitate relaunch of the Belgian economy be brought to the fore again.

The abortion vote planned for Thursday in the Federal Parliament was a source of discord between the three party leaders dubbed the “Three Kings” by political pundits. The leader of the Francophone liberals Georges-Louis Bouchez had wanted to allow his MPs a free vote on what is an ethical issue. However, the ethically conservative Mr Coens found this unacceptable and he pulled the plug on the talks. On Thursday evening the vote was averted at the eleventh hour. However, Mr Coens is not planning to resume the talks until he receives a clear sign from Mr Bouchez that trust can be restored. This could come at a meeting planned for later today.

Speaking on VRT Radio 1’s morning news and current affairs programme ‘De ochtend’ Mr Coens said that “The relaunch of the economy is of absolute importance and it must not be traversed by issues that are sensitive for one or another party. If this can’t be done then their is a breach of trust”.

Mr Coens wants an undertaking from Mr Bouchez that he will only discuss economic issues and will put the discussion on a new abortion law to bed for the time being at least.

Meanwhile, Mr Bouchez and the third “King”, the Flemish liberal leader Egbert Lachaert are refraining from comment. Meanwhile, the Flemish socialists say that they hope that the dispute can be resolved quickly. 

It started with a tweet

The row began on Thursday after Mr Bouchez posted a tweet stating that he wanted the vote to take place and that his MPs would be allowed a free vote. If a vote had taken place it was a near certainty that the new abortion bill would have been passed.

The Flemish Christian democrats saw this as a breach of trust, not least because Mr Bouchez had promised previously that the bill would not be voted on. In the end the Flemish Christian democrats used parliament procedure and a number of amendments were made to the bill and it has now been sent to the Council of State for scrutiny on its legality.

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