BRUSSELS - Belgium hit a new milestone yesterday - 450 days without a government - but still no one appears to be in any big hurry to resolve the situation.
Europe’s financial crisis and feeble economic growth may scare governments from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean Sea, but in Belgium it is a sideshow. Talks on a new Belgian government, which have been going on since the June 13, 2010, election, were at a standstill yesterday for a third day running.
Why? Because Green Party negotiator Jean-Michel Javaux - also the mayor of Amay, a small eastern town - had to attend a town meeting to vote on, among other things, a new police car and a computer.
Prime Minister Yves Leterme, meanwhile, was on a visit Sunday to Israel, assuring its leaders that all’s well in Belgium.
But that’s not really true. Intractable divisions between Belgium’s Dutch- and French-speaking camps are looming over the nation. And because anything can become a linguistic spat, Belgium has had 45 governments in 67 years.
Francophone Socialist Elio di Rupo is the latest politician trying to form a new government - and he has had 10 predecessors since the 2010 election.
After 15 months of impasse, most Belgians seem resigned to Leterme’s government of Christian Democrats, Liberals, and Socialists staying on as a “caretaker’’ cabinet handling routine business.
But others are stirring. Last week, judges and prosecutors in Antwerp scolded politicians for their inaction at a conference in Belgium’s second city.
“Political parties are leading us to the demise of our democracy,’’ said public prosecutor Yves Liegeois.
Piet Van den Bon, a Labor Court justice, claimed that illegal immigrants were pocketing undeserved handouts, a situation that “feeds a growing sense of injustice. The population expects from a government, especially in times of crisis, a readiness to act.’’
Just three subway stops from Brussels’ idle government complex, the headquarters of the European Union watches Belgium with unease but says publicly it retains “full confidence’’ in the nation’s ability to enact finance reforms.
However, already a Sept. 10 deadline for government negotiators to set a draft budget for 2012 has slipped to Sept. 30.
Rooted in history and economic disparities, language spats have long dominated politics in this country of 6.6 million Dutch-speakers and 4.1 million Francophones.