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Belgium - Elections 2007

In the 2007 general elections, the Flemish Christian Democratic CD&V recouped the lost ground, becoming the country's largest party. The two Socialist parties and Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's Open VLD lost support. The Francophone Liberal MR became the largest party of Wallonia and Brussels. Following the election, the King tasked CD&V leader Yves Leterme with forming a new government. The ruling coalition was composed of Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V), Francophone Christian Democrats (CDH), Flemish Liberals (Open VLD), Francophone Liberals (MR), and the Francophone Socialists (PS).

Belgian electoral campaigns are short affairs, lasting little more than a month, with important decisions having been made long before the electorate is called to the polls. For the first time in election history, five politicians were openly vying for Prime Minister: the outgoing PM Guy Verhofstadt, the Socialist leaders Johan Vande Lanotte (SP.A) and Elio Di Rupo (PS) respectively from the Flemish and Francophone sides, the Francophone Liberal (MR) leader Didier Reynders, and the Flemish Christian Democratic (CD&V) opposition leader Yves Leterme.

Another main feature of the campaign was the bitter confrontation between Di Rupo and Reynders. The Francophone Liberals (MR) of Vice Premier Didier Reynders remain traumatized by the change in coalition following the 2004 regional elections, when Di Rupo dropped the MR to form a Walloon regional coalition government with the Francophone Christian Democrats (CDH) of Joelle Milquet. Perceiving now that Socialist and Christian Democrats were too close for comfort (and mindful that previous coalitions linked Liberals and Christian Democrats), Reynders started attacking Di Rupo, and the confrontation has already deteriorated to the point that two were insulting each other.

The field of contenders was packed because there was a general "purple blues." After eight years in power the Liberal-Socialist coalition (hence the blue and red mix) had lost much of its drive and appeal. Socialist and Liberals leaders, while standing by what they had achieved over the past eight years, argue that the upcoming election was not about continuing the current coalition. But there was little doubt that if they command a majority in both houses of parliament, Socialists and Liberals would continue the purple coalition for another four years. And if needed, they may also seek the support of the two Green parties, the Flemish Groen! and Francophone ECOLO, harking back to the composition of PM Verhofstadt's first cabinet.

Following 196 days during which several attempts to form a government failed, an emergency interim government comprising five parties (the Open Vld, the MR, the CD&V, the PS and the cdH) was finally formed on 21 December 2007 under the leadership of Guy Verhofstadt. Its main task was to pass the 2008 budget. It won a vote of confidence on 23 December 2007 and Leterme was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. Although he was in charge of the budget portfolio, he led talks on institutional reform with other parties with a view to forming a new government.

Yves Leterme assumed office as Belgian Prime Minister 22 March 2008 amidst speculation about how long his government will last and how contentious will be the next wave of institutional reform talks. Leterme's Flemish nationalist election partner (NV.A) had given him until mid-July to propose significant state reforms, while the francophone Liberals were proclaiming a three year window for the reforms. However, it took over 9 months to form a government, which remained subject to intense strains. Leterme stepped down in December 2008 and was replaced as Prime Minister and head of the same coalition by the CD&V's Herman Van Rompuy.

Leterme's first government took seven months to form and fell within a year. The second Leterme government fell when Leterme resigned in December 2008 due to allegations that he interfered in a major judicial decision related to the sale of Belgium's largest bank Fortis to the French bank BNP Paribas.

The 2008 global economic crisis that severely affected the world banking system also hit the Belgian financial group Fortis. Mr. Leterme's government tried to resolve the crisis by selling Fortis to the French bank BNP Paribas. Several shareholders opposed the move and took the case to the court. On 12 December, the Appeal Court delivered its ruling, following which the President of the Appeal Court sent a letter to the House Speaker, informing him that attempts had been made to pressure the Appeal Court judges over the case. Prime Minister Leterme dismissed the allegations but admitted that one of his officials had contacted the judges. He nevertheless tendered his resignation to the King on 19 December.

The King formally accepted the resignation of the Leterme government late evening 22 December 2008. His efforts over the weekend to find a PM suitable to the five coalition parties failed. The MR and Open VLD raised strident objections to his desired replacement Jean-Luc Dehaene. The former government will remain in caretaker status until a new government coalition with full governing authorities can be sworn in. The King asked former PM and current EP People's Party Group Leader Wilfried Martens to act as a go-between with the majority parties and work towards a governing solution.

The Flemish Christian Democrats were trying to hold off elections until 2011, as the departure of Leterme's government and the controversy around JustMin Vandeurzen could hurt their chances in June. The Liberal parties, (Open VLD and MR) are in favor of early elections. Both the Open VLD and MR saw an opportunity to pick up seats in an early election.

A Flemish Christian Democrat (CD&V), Herman Van Rompuy became Prime Minister of Belgium on December 29, 2008, when the King asked him to form a government after the resignation of then PM Yves Leterme. Van Rompuy developed a reputation as a consensus builder palatable to both Flemings and Francophones throughout his over thirty-five years in politics, strongly supporting the unity of the Belgian state. He has grown in public esteem since his appointment, based on his comparatively smooth management of Belgium's often contentious body politic. Van Rompuy served as President of the Chamber of Deputies from 2007 to 2008. He received the honorary title of Minister of State in 2004. He has been elected to the Belgian Chamber of Deputies on the CD&V list in every election since 1995.

Van Rompuy had been a consensus-builder during his year in the Prime Minister's office and throughout his political career of more than 35 years. Van Rompuys appointment as President of the European Council under the Treaty of Lisbon paved the way for Leterme to regain his position as Prime Minister in November 2009, though he was unpopular in Francophone Belgium and with some in his own party. Many members of the political class in Brussels were worried about another Leterme Prime Ministership. An electoral dispute between the francophone and Flemish parties continually plagued his government coalition, which finally collapsed in April 2010.




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