Belgium sets up slimline coalition
Belgium's King Albert II has named Elio Di Rupo as the first French-speaking prime minister in nearly 40 years in one of the final steps before his team formally ends the record 541 days the country has gone without a government.
The swearing-in on Tuesday will be a long-awaited relief to the entire nation of 6.5 million Dutch speakers and 4.5 million French speakers who long ago grew frustrated with the deadlock between politicians over linguistic differences.
One radio presenter finally shaved off the beard he has grown for almost a year to protest the drawn-out coalition negotiations, an unofficial world record. "I won't do it again, never again," Koen Fillet said after he was soaped, shaved and splashed with after-shave in a show webcast live.
A royal statement late on Monday said "the king received Elio Di Rupo at Belvedere castle and named him prime minister".
The 60-year-old son of Italian immigrants thus completed a remarkable journey from childhood poverty to become the Belgium leader. He will lead a grand coalition of Socialists, Christian Democrats and Liberals, each split in Dutch and French-speaking parties.
Among his leading ministers, outgoing finance minister and Francophone liberal Didier Reynders became foreign minister and Dutch-speaking Christian Democrat Steven Vanackere made the reverse move.
Dutch-speaking socialist Johan Vande Lanotte - experienced in finance and budgetary issues - was named economics minister. The final stretch to name the ministers was drawn-out, in keeping with entire process: An all-night negotiating session to decide which party would claim what post ended Monday afternoon.
From now on, the government has a lot of catching up to do, especially when it comes to the economy.
Just 10 days ago the credit rating of Belgium was downgraded, when high debt caught up with extended indecision on the government make-up. One day later, Mr Di Rupo and his partners had agreed on a budget meant to meet the demands of the European Union and calm nervous markets.
The EU welcomed the breakthrough and said EU officials would soon review the budget text to see if it meets the recommendations of fiscal rigour and increased competitiveness.