In his latest interviews, he asked every level of government to co-operate in battling the economic crisis. He called for a “co-operative federalism”, a term that echoed the “fighting federalism” that his predecessor Herman Van Rompuy condemned and that seemed to describe somewhat the attitude of the “old” Leterme.
Leterme claims that he has not changed at all. It is the circumstances that prompt him to take on this new stand. And, he says, in the 2007 federal election campaign, he never focused on “communitarian” issues.
There may be some truth in that, but that is not how most people perceive the “old” Leterme. He was, after all, the man who formed a cartel with the separatist party N-VA, an alliance that contributed greatly to his electoral victory. There was also the misunderstood irony in his words that some French speakers seemed “intellectually incapable of learning Dutch”, a claim that tainted his reputation with the francophone colleagues with whom he later had to negotiate.
There was also an earlier remark that splitting the Brussels- Halle-Vilvoorde constituency – a highly delicate issue for decades – required no more than “five minutes of political courage”. When Leterme as Flemish minister-president decided to stand as a candidate for the federal parliament, he referred to the need for state reform as his major motivation. Moreover, he said he did not want this state reform just for the sake of it but because it was the only way to tackle major economic issues. And what made the first federal government under prime minister Leterme such a mess?
The failed talks on state reform, which dragged on forever.
Leterme now leaves all of that behind him. The reason for this is the economic crisis – the very same issue that once made him champion state reform so dearly. So has he changed? Or is it simply the circumstances that have changed? Who can tell?
One thing remains constant, though. Yves Leterme would still rather talk about football club Standard than about politics. So maybe he has not changed all that much after all.