21st Oct 2016


Deja vu as Belgian coalition talks break down

  • Flemish flag: the N-VA was unable to form a coalition, as pessimism mounts (Photo: crosby_cj)

One month after national elections in Belgium, the process of forming a new government is going nowhere.

The lead negotiator and chairman of the Flemish nationalist N-VA party, Bart De Wever, returned his mandate to form a government to the king on Wednesday (25 June).

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The move has prompted fears that Belgium is heading for another lengthy round of talks on shared rule. Less than three years ago it took almost 550 days to make the deal – a world record.

After the 25 May elections, there was optimism that this time it would be different.

Belgian voters laid out the cards in a way that created several possibilities. De Wever, as the winner of the elections, got the first shot. He tried for a month to form a centre-right coalition with Flemish and francophone parties.

That coalition would have, for the first time in a few decades, not included PS, the socialist party of the francophone south of Belgium.

And that’s where it went wrong. The francophone Christian Democrat party (cdH) did not want to break with its longstanding partner.

But without cdH, De Wever’s centre right coalition would have been too weak on its southern flank.

The impasse could spell another seemingly endless period of attempts at coalition-forming.

As usual, the process is coloured by the structural problem that in the richer and more populous Flanders the dominant political forces are centre-right, while in Wallonia the centre-left is in the lead.

The fact that regional governments are being formed at the same time, and that coalition partners are different in each region, also complicates government talks at the federal level.

On the other hand, nobody wants a repeat of the long stalemate of recent years.

Belgium survived the financial crisis in relatively good shape, but is in need of important structural reforms, and voters might not forgive their politicians if they break the world record on disagreement once again.

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