Belgians celebrate 249 days without government
Citizens hail political crisis as world record
Belgians are marking 249 days without a government Thursday — a figure that they are treating as a world record.
Day to day the crisis pits the leaders of six million Dutch-speaking Flemings against those of 4.5 million French speakers, but people from across the country are putting aside their differences to celebrate the occasion.
In Dutch-speaking Ghent, organizers hope 249 people will strip naked to mark the days of the crisis as part of a party expected to draw thousands. There will be free fries, Belgium's beloved national dish, in Leuven and lots of Belgian beer in the French-speaking student town of Louvain-la-Neuve.
"Finally world champion," the usually serious De Standaard newspaper proclaimed in the headline of its Thursday edition, tongue firmly in cheek.
"Of course it is serious that we have no federal government," Kris Peeters, the minister-president of Flanders, said in an interview. "But on the other hand, I appreciate very much the humour of certain actions."
249 days without government ties Iraq
It is arguable whether 249 really is the record. Iraq took 249 days to get the outlines of a government agreement last year, but the approval of that government took a further 40 days.
Still, the way things are going, Belgium will have little problem claiming the record whichever standard is used.
After general elections on June 13 last year, Belgium's major parties began talks to force through the biggest constitutional reform in decades to keep both linguistic groups happy. But since their interests are often diametrically opposed, they ran into one deadlock after another.
King Albert had to appoint and accept the resignation of one go-between after another as the major parties refused to move far from their pre-election position. It is a process which continues to this day. The chances of success for the current negotiator, caretaker Finance Minister Didier Reynders, are seen as slim and the spectre of new elections to break the deadlock are looming.