Last summer I wrote of "Belgium's Lost Year," marking twelve months of political confusion after inconclusive national elections in June 2007. Now that the very tenuous government formed by Yves Leterme has submitted its resignation (its fourth), the country will apparently spend Christmas and New Year's consumed with the never-ending political drama. Or perhaps not. Crisis or not, there are feasts to be consumed and parties to be thrown. And politics really is the last thing that Belgium needs more of.
The proximate cause of Leterme's fall is government interference in the judicial process over the resolution of the Fortis Bank crisis, violating the separation of power. But Leterme's fall could also be seen as the first governmental casualty in the worldwide financial crisis. It is his government's eagerness to get its way in the bailout of Fortis that led to tinkering with the judicial process.
Belgium's Leterme and his coalition government may be the first direct political casualties of the financial crisis, but indirectly, we know that John McCain paid the price for being in the same party as George W. Bush. The financial crisis, metastasizing into an economic crisis, may claim other governments before it is over.
At the very time that the private sector is increasingly dependent on bailouts from governments, public coffers are denied tax income from a constricting private sector. Where is the bailout money going to come from when governments like those in Belgium and the U.S. run out of money? The printing press? China? But then who gets to bail out China when its industry feels the pinch from shrunken Western demand?
Belgium usually muddles through, and the King will have his work cut out for him to deal with this latest resignation. He refused to accept Leterme's previous ones, though, as wags have noted, the PM's political lives are dwindling. Even cats have only nine lives.
With this, I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, and survival in 2009. It will be a good New Year, because it won't be 2008 any longer. I'll be in places with intermittent internet connections over the next ten days or so, so please stand by for full Avuncular production in 2009.