Friday

14th Aug 2020

Belgium: Parties clash on Reynders as EU commissioner

The Belgian government has nominated Didier Reynders, foreign minister and deputy prime minister, to be its European commissioner.

Reynders is seen as a logical choice for several reasons.

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As the last two EU commissioners, Karel De Gucht and Marianne Thyssen, were Flemish, some say it is now time for a francophone one.

After 20 years of being minister in the Belgian federal government, in charge of finance, foreign affairs and defence, Reynders is also one of the country's most experienced politicians.

He lost his bid to become secretary-general of the Council of Europe earlier this year and was already candidate for the European Commission in 2014.

In a reaction to his nomination, Reynders said that he was "really happy", but the move still needs to be approved by the European Parliament.

Backlash

Meanwhile, when Belgian prime minister Charles Michel announced the nomination of Reynders, the Flemish nationalist party NVA reacted furiously.

NVA claimed it had not been consulted, despite being the largest party in the country.

Peter De Roover, the leader of NVA in the chamber of representatives, demanded a parliamentary debate on the nomination, underlining that the current Belgian government is on its way out.

The francophone socialist party, PS, is also unhappy on Reynders, saying it was unfair that Belgian prime minister Charles Michel is to be the next EU Council president and that a man from his party, the Reform Movement, would also take up an EU post.

Michel had led a coalition government with the NVA, but the nationalists quit the deal in December last year in a clash over Belgian support for a UN migration pact.

Since then, relations between the NVA and the MR party have turned more and more sour.

But MR, and its Flemish liberal counterpart, Open Vld, said that the NVA had been consulted on the Reynders nomination despite its public gripes.

100 days

Some 100 days have now passed without even informal talks between parties on a new federal government since elections in late May.

Reynders, together with the Flemish socialist MP Johan Vande Lanotte, were appointed by the Belgian King, Philippe, to look into the possibilities for a new coalition.

The most probable scenario is a so-called "purple-yellow" coalition, between Francophone and Flemish liberals (MR and Open Vld), Francophone and Flemish socialists (PS and sp.a) and the Flemish nationalists (NVA).

But the federal government formation is running simultaneously with the formation of regional governments, which makes things even more complicated.

The Brussels government has already been formed without the MR, while Flemish government talks are being held without the socialists of sp.a. On the Walloon side, the PS, while being in the lead, is trying to keep the MR out of office.

The Finnish deadline

It would have been logical to discuss the nomination for the European Commission within the framework of the Belgian government formation talks.

However, the Finnish presidency of the European Union, gave 26 August as deadline for the commission nominations.

As the Belgian federal government talks have not even started, it left Michel and the other coalition partners the choice between nominating someone now, and asking for an important portfolio, or waiting a few more weeks while knowing that all the decent commission posts would already have been distributed.

The fact the NVA was unwilling to cooperate on the nomination of Reynders shows that Belgium might head for another record of days of government formation.

Belgium already holds the world record of having no government for 541 days.

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