Because of Dehaene, it has become almost impossible to make any politician answer a hypothetical question. Still, there is one “what if” that plays on many people’s minds: what if prime minister Herman Van Rompuy (CD&V) leaves to become the president of the European Union? In that (hypothetical) case, who will become prime minister?
The most likely candidate is foreign minister Yves Leterme, the Christian Democrat who was prime minister up until last year. Leterme gained an amazing 800,000 votes in the federal elections of 2007, making him the most popular candidate in decades. Many people feel he messed up, though. Because of his electoral promise that he would deliver a thorough state reform, he found it almost impossible to form a government with the French-speaking parties. He even had to include the socialist PS, who in Flanders are often considered to be an obstacle to exactly the state reform Leterme hoped to achieve.
Along the way, the cartel Leterme’s party formed with the small nationalist party N-VA (which was a contributing factor to CD&V’s electoral success) fell apart. In the end, the former prime minister stumbled, over allegations that his government had breached the separation of powers in the handling of the Fortis deal. Leterme stood down, leaving Van Rompuy no option but to become prime minister.
Some people would prefer not to see Leterme return to the highest position. The French-language newspaper Le Soir has even published a veto against the man. In his own party, too, there are doubts about Leterme, especially since Van Rompuy would leave one major project unfinished: that darned state reform again, in which the Flemish and the French speakers have not moved one inch closer to each other. Leterme might, in other words, be heading towards another fiasco.
Traditionally, it is up to CD&V party president Marianne Thyssen to make the ultimate decision. So far, she has not spoken out on the issue. She too has learned not to answer hypothetical questions, and Van Rompuy is still around. But when the problem does arise, Thyssen will have to solve it.