Friday

27th Nov 2020

Belgium's political deadlock is complete

  • In the Royal Palace of Belgium, King Philippe is trying to find a way out of the political deadlock (Photo: Cloudywind)

After 163 days since the Belgian elections of 26 May nothing has moved in the formation of a new government.

On Monday 4 November the two so-called "pre-informators", Rudy Demotte and Geert Bourgeois, offered their resignation to King Philippe as they could not see a way out of the deadlock.

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In the usual system of government formations in Belgium the King appoints first an "informator" to see which coalition is possible.

Once the coalition is clear, the King appoints a "formator" who's task is to hold the pen of the new government agreement. The formator usually becomes the prime minister of this new government.

However, since the elections of 2007, and the first victory of the Flemish nationalist party, the New Flemish Alliance (NVA), government formations have become an increasingly difficult and long process.

Since then, the King had no other choice than to send other functionaries than the informators into the political minefield with the purpose of browsing the possibilities of coalitions.

It has demanded increasing creativity of the current and former King of Belgium.

Two informators, the Francophone liberal and future EU commissioner Didier Reynders and the Flemish socialist and former deputy prime minister Johan Vande Lanotte, had to give up their mission on 7 October, after 130 days of trying.

However, their conclusion was that there is enough common ground between the NVA, the largest party of Flanders, and the socialist PS, the largest one of Francophone Belgium, to start coalition talks.

Nevertheless, the ground was too shaky for real government negotiations.

That is the reason why the King had to move back to "pre-informators", this time with the Flemish nationalist and former Flemish first minister Geert Bourgeois and Francophone socialist and former first minister of Wallonia Rudy Demotte.

Now they have given up as well.

Nobody wants to move

The main problem of the last 12 years of Belgian politics is that the largest parties on each side of the language border, NVA in Flanders and PS in Francophone Belgium, are each other's ideological opponents.

NVA is seen by the PS as almost a far-right party that thrives on a xenophobic agenda, and that is openly working on the end of Belgium as a country.

The PS is seen by the NVA as an extreme-left party and a symbol of Belgium's economic and political stagnation.

The PS passionately opposed the government of prime minister Charles Michel, from the Francophone liberal MR with NVA and the Flemish liberals (Open Vld) and Christian Democrats (CD&V).

The harsh language of state secretary for asylum and migration, Theo Francken, was one of the main issues.

The fact that the NVA left the government of Michel six months before the elections of 26 May, as the party did not want the prime minister to sign the UN migration pact, was another.

Therefore, the PS is convinced that forming a government with NVA is a certain formula to lose the next elections.

NVA on the other hand wants to keep an eye on its right side, as it lost a quarter of its votes to the far-right Vlaams Belang.

In other words, both parties are convinced they can only lose by blinking first and saying yes to a coalition with the other party.

New elections?

Two possible coalitions are on the table.

Both have a 'purple' core: socialists (red) and liberals (blue) from both sides of the language border together make purple.

In the first option of purple-yellow, the NVA (yellow) would join the socialist-liberal coalition.

Most Flemish parties prefer this coalition as it would take the largest Flemish party into the government, instead of giving the party the opportunity of opposition.

The second option would be purple-green, with both the Francophone and the Flemish green parties.

If NVA and PS continue to refuse to talk to each other, there might be no other option than the second one.

Except if everyone becomes too tired of walking from impasse to impasse and prefers to go to elections again.

Some parties in the Francophone part of the country are already whispering the idea of elections.

But chances seem to be low that new elections would bring a result that will make the Belgian government an easier nut to crack.

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Analysis

Is Belgium heading for new elections?

Belgian coalition talks have hit a wall nine months after elections, posing the possibility of a new vote, which risks making the country even harder to govern.

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Belgium's King Philippe has given interim prime minister Sophie Wilmès the task of forming a government, after seven opposition parties agreed to support it. The agreement came after a political drama - and there are doubts if it will hold.

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