I was at a breakfast meeting this morning (ugh! Getting up at unaccustomedly early time) and found myself sitting (as Facebook folks will have noticed) next to one of the numerous living former prime ministers of Belgium. Although the meeting was on entirely a different topic, I could not resist asking him what he thought of the current crisis situation. He said that he felt the big mistake had been to allow the federal Belgian electoral cycle to get out of step with the regional elections: everyone was now positioning themselves for the 2009 polls for the various sub-national parliaments and Europe. I asked if there was now a chance that the federal elections could be brought forward to help resolve the crisis. He pointed out that the root cause of the current crisis is precisely the nature of the arrangements for the elections to the federal Belgian parliament, so unless that is sorted out first, the legitimacy of any new federal elections is not clear.
Leterme’s government lasted longer than I predicted (since I actually predicted he wouldn’t even get to the start of his term, never mind the end). My prediction now, in full knowledge of my previous inaccuracy, is that his party – whose new leader lives in the next village to ours, and used to be one of our numerous record-breaking female local councillors – will dump him and either find a different potential prime minister, or (more likely) opt to back someone else’s candidate while licking their wounds, as they did last December. And Belgium will muddle through for another few years.
Edited May 2014 to add:, now that he is no longer one of Belgium’s living ex-Prime Ministers, I shall reveal that my interlocutor at breakfast that day was Jean-Luc Dehaene.