Monday, January 31, 2011

Record breakers

The Guardian, which occasionally has its uses, is telling us that Belgium could soon lay claim to being the holder of an award with the unwieldy name of "World Champion in Not Forming a Government".

Actually, the story was run on 26 January by Euronews, the same day as Deutsche Welle, but five days behind the curve on European matters is not bad for a British newspaper, and the rest don't seem to have done the story, except the Economist which doesn't really matter.

The Guardian treats the issue in a light-hearted manner, noting that Belgium has been in limbo since June, with coalition talks between the seven parties constantly breaking down. It tells us that the latest mediator, Johan Vande Lanotte, who was appointed by King Albert II, resigned last week, complaining that he couldn't even get all the parties around one table.

Then we get the punch line: if the politicians haven't sorted out their differences by 17 February, the paralysis will have lasted for 250 days, and the record will be in the bag.

Parties representing Belgium's two communities, the 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and 4.5 million French-speaking Walloons, have struggled to cooperate before. But Belgium surpassed its own national record when it hit 194 days in December and is well on its way to beating Iraq, which dithered for 249 days after the 2010 elections.

However, people – and particularly Belgians - are beginning to realise that the absence of a government isn't funny at all. Ratings agencies have warned they could downgrade Belgium's credit rating if it continues is this state and, conscious of the danger, and exasperated with their politicians, last week, more than 30,000 people marched through Brussels to demand that a government be formed.

So far, though, there seems to be absolutely no sign of the stalemate being broken, which means that the Belgians are soon going to be proud holders of a record that none of them actually want.