The fall of the federal government after the financial crisis

Centre d’étude de la vie politique, Université libre de Bruxelles
The financial crisis produced unexpected political consequences in Belgium. In the first days of the crisis, the main banks of the country witnessed cash assets problems and a period of mistrust in the population. Related to the surrounding financial events, some of them stood at the edge of bankruptcy. This was especially the case of “Fortis”, one of the largest banks of Belgium, which also had activities located in Luxemburg and the Netherlands. Due to the urgent situation, the Prime Minister Yves Leterme and the Minister of Finances took immediate measures and decided – with the support of the federal cabinet – to nationalise the Belgian parts of the bank (the other parts being acquired by, respectively, the Netherlands and Luxemburg). But in its haste, the government did not request the agreement of the stockholders of “Fortis” as a precondition for the nationalisation. In the following days, the share lost almost all its value and the disappointed stockholders decided to go to court.
After a decision of the court that was favourable to the government, the decision of the judges in the court of appeal gave reason to the stockholders: they should have been consulted during the nationalisation of the bank. However, in the following days, the head of the Brussels court accused the Prime Minister and his personal aides of having tried to influence the decision of the judges. These facts have been widely considered as an interference with the justice and a clear infringement of the separation of powers. The Prime Minister had no other option than to present the resignation of its entire government on the 21 December 2008. The King gave the president of the European People’s Party, Wilfried Martens, a mission of information and, on the 30 December, appointed Herman Van Rompuy as new Prime Minister. The governmental coalition stayed the same and few changes occurred in the cabinet, with the exception of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Civil Service and Public Companies, and the Minister of Interior Affairs.