The breakthrough came when a centre-left party from French-speaking Belgium agreed to join a coalition led by acting Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. An interim, five-party government coalition could be formed by the end of the week.
The alliance includes Christian Democrats and Liberals from both parts of Belgium as well as Francophone Socialists.
The agreement puts a temporary end to the political gridlock that has kept Belgium without a government since June 10, when a national election failed to yield a clear winner. Belgium’s nominal head of state King Albert II had asked Verhofstadt to try to form an alliance to overcome the stalemate.
“The prime minister has unblocked the situation,” said a spokesman for Verhofstadt.
If a new government passes a parliamentary vote of confidence, it would only govern until March 23, at which point Flemish Christian Democrat leader Yves Leterme would take over. But it would be able to pass a budget for the coming year and take decisions on other pressing issues ranging from inflation to security.
“For Europe, this means the crisis is over for Belgium,” said long-serving finance minister Didier Reynders, head of the French-speaking Liberals — one of the five coalition parties.
The two halves of Belgium at often at odds
The split between Flemish and Wallonian (French-speaking) Belgians is both cultural and economic.
Flemish speakers, who account for some 58 percent of the population, have traditionally squabbled with their francophone countrymen over the relationship of Belgium’s two main languages. The conflict has hindered long overdue reforms of the Belgian state.
The more affluent Flemish North of the country also wants to devolve control of the labor market and corporate tax rates from the national to the regional level.
French-speaking Wallonia, where unemployment runs twice as high as in Flemish-speaking Flanders, fears that the northern Belgian region would use such powers to lure companies away from the South with lower corporate tax rates.
The impasse has given rise to speculations that the 177-year-old state could split in two. But an opinion poll published on Monday showed that the vast majority of Belgians wanted the country to remain intact.
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