Belgium News & Current Events

Government Unable to Bridge Linguistic Divide

Prime Minister Verhofstadt resigned in June 2007, after his coalition of liberals and socialists took a drubbing in a general election. He remained in office as caretaker prime minister for more than six months, however, as talks between Flemish-speaking and French-speaking parties on forming a government reached a deadlock, leaving the country in political crisis. At King Albert II's request, Verhofstadt formed an interim coalition government in December 2007.

On March 20, 2008, Yves Leterme was sworn in as prime minister, ending the political crisis that spanned nine months. A new government was formed and includes both Flemish and French-speaking democrats, liberals, and socialists.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations, Belgium's enduring linguistic divide led to the resignation of Prime Minister Leterme on July 14, 2008. King Albert II did not immediately accept his resignation, leaving the government again in a caretaker's hands. The king accepted the resignation on December 22, 2008, and on December 28, asked Herman Van Rompuy to form a new cabinet. Parliament gave Van Rompuy's new government a vote of confidence (88-45) in January 2009. Van Rompuy stepped down in November to become President of the European Council. Leterme returned for another term as prime minister. He set to work on reviving the economy and reducing unemployment.

Leterme's government collapsed in April 2010 when the liberal Open VLD party bolted from the coalition in yet another conflict between Flemish and French speakers. The movement to break up Belgium gained steam in June's parliamentary elections when the separatist New Flemish Alliance party won the most seats.

First French Speaker to Lead New Government

After a record 541 days in the hands of a caretaker administration, Belgium was prompted by Europe's debt crisis to finally form a new government. Elio di Rupo, a Socialist from the Walloon (French-speaking) community took the prime minister's office on Dec. 6, 2011. Di Rupo, 60, became Belgium's first French-speaking prime minister in three decades and the first Socialist to assume the post since 1974.

King Albert II Announces Abdication

In early July 2013, King Albert II attended a midday session of the Belgian cabinet and announced that he would leave the throne later that month, on July 21, Belgium's National Day. He said he was resigning due to health reasons. Therefore, King Albert II, age 79, became the second Belgian king to abdicate. His father, King Leopold III, abdicated in 1951.

Prince Philippe, the eldest child of King Albert II and Queen Paola, became the seventh king of the Belgians on July 21, 2013. Next in line of succession is Princess Elisabeth, King Philippe's firstborn.

Prime Minister Di Rupo Resigns after Parliamentary Elections

In May 2014 parliamentary elections, the separatist New Flemish Alliance became the largest party in the language-divided country, taking 20.3% of the vote. The Socialist Party and Flemish Christian Democratic Party tied for second with 11.7%. After the vote, leader of the Socialist Party, Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo resigned.

King Philip accepted Di Rupo's resignation and asked Flemish separatist leader Bart De Wever to lead the coalition talks. After four months of negotiations, a very shaky coaltion was formed in October, with the French-speaking liberal Reform Movement party, headed by Charles Michel, joining with three Flemish-speaking parties: the New Flemish Alliance, the Flemish Christian Democrats, and the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats. For the first time in 25 years, the Socialists will be in the opposition. Michel became prime minister and said his government would implement economic reforms, including lowering taxes and raising the retirement age, to reduce the budget deficit.

Brussels Rocked by Terrorist Attacks; ISIS Claims Responsibility

Belgian police arrested Salah Abdeslam in March 2016. Abdeslam is believed to be the ISIS logistics chief for the November 2015 Paris attacks, and the only major player in the Paris attacks that is still alive.

Two bombs exploded in Brussels during rush hour on March 22, 2016, killing at least 30 people and wounding several hundred. At least 10 were killed at the Zaventem international airport; and more than 20 died at the Maelbeek subway station. Both are located close to NATO headquarters. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. ?Islamic State fighters opened fire inside the Zaventem airport, before several of them detonated their explosive belts, as a martyrdom bomber detonated his explosive belt in the Maelbeek metro station.? Authorities speculated that the attacks were a response to the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, days earlier.

See also Encyclopedia: Belgium.

U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Belgium

National Institute of Statistics www.statbel.fgov.be/ .