Leading article: A unique Belgian lesson in good governance

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It would be tempting to observe that Belgium has not had a government for a record 541 days and no one noticed. It has taken 18 months of often tense negotiations for the six parties in the ruling coalition to reach agreement on who should be Prime Minister. Meanwhile, day to day life continued untroubled. So why bother?

Although Belgium has functioned well enough at regional level, there have been real consequences from the lack of direction at federal level. The nation's state debt is so high – at just below 100 per cent of GDP – that confidence has plummeted to the point where Standard & Poor's 10 days ago downgraded Belgian sovereign debt. And the eurozone debt crisis appears to be drawing Belgium in deeper.

The new Prime Minister is right to talk of the need "to roll up our sleeves and get this country out of crisis". He does not have long. There will be another general election there in just two years.