WORLD

Three wise men to the rescue

PAUL WELLS August 4 2008
WORLD

Three wise men to the rescue

PAUL WELLS August 4 2008

Three wise men to the rescue

PAUL WELLS

If any further proof were needed that Belgium is a tough country to govern, consider this: out of the country’s 10.4 million people, only one has the confidence of King Albert II to be prime minister. And even though Yves Leterme keeps handing in his resignation, Albert keeps refusing it.

This time, though, the king has at least clipped his reluctant servant’s wings.

Leterme handed in his resignation for the third time on July 14, unable to meet his own deadline for reconciling Flemish demands for radical constitutional reform. (The demands of Belgium’s Flemish majority for more autonomy have been the cause of Leterme’s political life. He shows little regard for the Frenchspeaking Walloon minority; last year on the country’s national holiday he was unable to sing Belgium’s national anthem for a Frenchlanguage television crew.) After considering options for a few days, Albert turned down Leterme’s resignation. But he told Leterme to concentrate only on Belgium’s economy for awhile, because during what has become an unending constitutional crisis, nobody’s been doing that.

The crisis will have new caretakers: Albert appointed “three wise men” to report back to him within two weeks. All come from the country’s minorities: two are francophones, one is from the tiny Germanspeaking minority, and their mandate is to look for guarantees that could be offered to their communities so they could move on to more difficult mat-

ters without worrying that Dutch-speaking, prosperous Flanders would either roll right over them or abandon them. The latter option has become a looming danger. Where only a tiny fringe in Flanders has long-standing separatist convictions, the current impasse has given it a lot of company. Polls suggest nearly half of the Flemish population now supports breaking Belgium up into two or more sovereign countries. M