31st Oct 2020

Belgium ends two-year government crisis with fresh PM

  • New Belgian PMAlexander De Croo spoke at the European Parliament building in Brussels, in order to allow Belgian MPs to social distance (Photo: Alexander De Croo/Twitter)

Many Belgians plus those living and working in the country breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday (1 October), as after two years of government crisis the country finally announced a new government, with full powers.

The new prime minister, Alexander De Croo, a 44 year-old Flemish liberal, presented the government programme in a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels.

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This unusual location was chosen so that the 150 Belgian MPs could meet in plenary with the necessary social distancing.

Earlier on Thursday the new ministers - from a total of seven different parties - swore their oath before King Philip at the royal palace.

Eleven of the 21 ministers and secretaries of state are women. Three of them have a non-Belgian background.

The cabinet will have four years to execute the new government programme, which much focussed on the corona crisis and it economic and social fall-out.

According to De Croo "this government is starting during the largest crisis our country has ever known in peacetime. Larger than the financial and economic crisis of 2008/2009 and even larger than the Great Depression."

"This government will do whatever it takes to defeat this crisis", he said.

He also said that the new Belgian government will follow "a very European course". According to De Croo the battle of the European Parliament for more power proves that "democratic rights are never a given".

'Vivaldi' coalition

The new government is dubbed a "Vivaldi coalition", as it reflects parties with the colours of the four seasons: red for socialist, blue for the liberals, green for the greens and orange for the Christian Democrats.

As the federal Belgian government needs half of its ministers to be Flemish and half Francophone, a parliamentary majority needed to be found with parties from both sides of the language border.

In this case, only the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V) are part of the government, while the other political families participate with both a Flemish and Francophone party: Francophone and Flemish socialists (PS and SP.A), Francophone and Flemish liberals (MR and Open VLD) and Francophone and Flemish greens (Ecolo and Groen).

Thus the opposition will consist of the Flemish nationalist NVA, the Flemish extreme-right Vlaams Belang, the Francophone and Flemish communists (PTB and PVDA), the Francophone Christian Democrats (CDh) and the mainly Brussels-based Francophone Défi.

The fragmentation of the election result is the main reason why only now, 16 months after the election, politicians have been able to form a government.

In fact, the government of prime minister Charles Michel - now president of the European Council - broke down in December 2018, six months before the election, over opposition to it signing the UN migration pact.

The Flemish nationalist NVA refused to agree to the Belgian signature under the pact.

With the other parties claiming that everyone in the government agreed on the signing, it would have been inappropriate to withdraw it. As a result, NVA left the government, which remained in power despite having lost its parliamentary majority.

When Michel started his new post as president of the European Council, Sophie Wilmès became prime minister.

She received a majority in parliament to fight the coronavirus crisis until 1 October.

After several failed attempts at forming a new government, the new one under De Croo found an agreement just in time. He promised that this government would work better together and show unity.

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