26th Sep 2023

Already doubts over Belgium's new 'anti-corona government'

  • Prime minister Sophie Wilmès, here announcing coronavirus measures, has been asked by the Belgian King to form a new government (Photo: premier.be)

Belgium's King Philippe on Monday (16 March) demanded interim prime minister Sophie Wilmès to form a new government.

As King, it is up to Philippe to designate so-called "informateurs" or people tasked to find a coalition with a majority in parliament.

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Once an agreement is found, another individual known as a 'formateur', must then put together the government.

The 'formateur', who typically becomes Belgium's prime minister, also leads negotiations on the government's programme.

Wilmès was appointed "formateur", after 10 parties, in government and opposition, agreed to support an emergency government with extraordinary powers to fight the coronavirus outbreak and its consequences.

These parties were brought together by the two "informateurs" Patrick Dewael (Open Vld/Renew) and Sabine Laruelle (MR/Renew), respectively a Flemish and Francophone liberal.

The 10 parties agreed that the current minority government of three parties, the francophone liberal MR (Renew) of Wilmès, the Flemish liberal Open Vld (Renew) and the Christian Democrat CD&V (EPP) would remain in place for six months.

The two main changes are that it would no longer be a caretaker government, but a fully-fledged one - and that it would receive extraordinary powers.

These powers will give the government the ability to take urgent measures, without the need of approval from the parliament.

Seven opposition parties would support this emergency government: the Flemish right-wing NVA (ECR), the Francophone socialists (PS), the Flemish socialists (sp.a), both S&D, the Francophone green party Ecolo , the Flemish greens of GROEN (both Greens/EFA), the Francophone Christian-democrats (Cdh/EPP), and the Brussels party Défi.

Not what leaders envisaged

On Thursday (12 March) the presidents of the eight biggest political parties (except the far-right Vlaams Belang) were sitting around the table discussing a different idea.

They all agreed that what the country needed now was a new coalition government, for one year, with a large majority in parliament.

It would also contain only 10 ministers, instead of the current 15, and no secretaries of state, or deputy ministers.

But when it became more concrete, the first problems came to the surface. Who would become prime minister? Which parties could have two ministers, while others only one?

A second problem was that the Flemish nationalists of NVA also asked that during this year there would be a discussion about state reform or devolution.

When PS party leader Paul Magnette called a meeting of the party bureau on Sunday morning (15 March), the opposition of party members was so serious that he had to drop the idea he first agreed on.

Magnette had to communicate live on television that the PS would never form a government with the NVA. He had given this message before. However - in the light of his earlier agreement to form an emergency coalition government - this was seen as treason by NVA.

The other Francophone parties, however, had no other choice than following the PS lead and choose to support the transformation of the current caretaker government into an emergency government.

Nothing on paper

As if there were not enough tensions already, NVA and the Flemish socialist sp.a criticised on Monday (16 March) the fact that Wilmès became "formateur" to form a government.

They both argue that this is not what has been agreed on - while others say the opposite.

Unfortunately, it is hard to find out who is right, as no word of the agreement has been put on paper.

It is now up to Wilmès to put an agreement on paper where all 10 parties can consent to.

This paper is going to be crucial as it will determine if Belgium will finally have a real government and if it will receive the extraordinary powers it needs to tackle the worst crisis since World War II.


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