BRUSSELS, Dec 31 (Reuters) - New Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy urged parliament on Wednesday to pass bills to revive an economy heading into recession and to resolve a political dispute that threatens to pull the country apart.
“The year that ends today has been marked by the most serious global financial crisis since the 1930s,” he said in a declaration before a vote of confidence due on Friday.
“Domestically it has been a year of uncertainty, partly due to political moments of crisis and the consequences of the financial crisis,” he continued in the Belgian equivalent of a state of the union address.
Van Rompuy, 61, became Belgium’s third premier in a year on Tuesday, succeeding Yves Leterme whose government collapsed on Dec. 19 over the stalled bailout of stricken bank Fortis FOR.BR and asset sale to France’s BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA).
Belgium is expected to have entered a recession in the fourth quarter, faces a lingering bank crisis and is beset by a dispute over devolution that has seen it lurch from one political crisis to another since the June 2007 election.
Leterme’s government proposed earlier this month pumping 2 billion euros ($2.84 billion) into the economy next year, part of a 200 billion euro EU-wide stimulus package.
“The previous government proposed such a plan. It must be enacted as soon as possible,” Van Rompuy told lawmakers.
“It is clear that in the coming weeks and months the government will take new initiatives to cope with the challenges that the crisis poses for the economy and employment.”
Van Rompuy also pressed bickering parties to settle a dispute over whether the regions should have greater autonomy.
The majority Dutch-speakers want more powers for Flanders over the labour market and justice, but French-speakers fear further devolution will hit their less vibrant economy and risks breaking the 178-year-old country in two.
The prime minister first wants results from a committee looking into the thorny issue of electoral boundaries around Brussels and demanded changes implemented from next summer.
Van Rompuy’s sole mention of the Fortis debacle was to call for an investigation into alleged meddling in a court’s decision to freeze the Fortis bailout to be non-partisan. (Editing by Charles Dick)