Thursday, 1 December 2011

YES, a new government

Negotiators for a new Belgian government have finally achieved a definite agreement for a new government. It took 535 days to get that far, a world- and probably intergalactic-record. The new cabinet could take up its task next Monday, the 5th of December, day 540 after the elections of the 13th of June 2010.
The message was sent out shortly after 9 pm on Wednesday evening: the six negotiating parties (liberals, socialists and christian democrats of both communities of Belgium) around 'formateur' Elio di Rupo had agreed on a text of 185 pages (another record), the agreement that will command the actions of the next federal government.

Reactions on the final agreement were mitigated. There was much relief that finally there will be again a government in full. But there was much confusion and already some angry reactions about the budget cuts. 

The negotiators met today again to do the second lecture. They were expected to finish this evening. At that time a day of union protests will start against the measures the negotiators adopted last weekend about cuts for an amount of 11,3 bn € in the budget of 2012 and about reforms of the pension and unemployment system.
In the weekend party congresses will vote on the agreement, so that from sunday evening onwards di Rupo can start with the composition of his first government. Somewhere Monday the new ministers will go to the Royal Palace in Laken to swear their oath in front of King Albert.

The absolute world record of 540 days to form a government (the previous one was in the hands of Iraq with some 280 days) is prove that Belgium has become so divided that it is extremely difficult to govern it, especially in difficult times all over Europe.  But it is also true that at the end a majority of politicians was found to go at extreme length (540 days) to keep that country, if not alive, at least afloat.


  1. Let's hope the new government will succeed.
    I'm afraid that they won't.

  2. Dear Rolf, Thank you for keeping us up to date. Great blog. I am a fan. Can I (ab)use this opportunity to make a bold statement?
    Finally a new government so now let's focus on what needs doing: abolish the elections, the parliament and the government. Sounds stupid? Read my blog. informationanddemocracy[dot]blogspot[dot]com

  3. I, for one, thought the country was rather well governed over the past 540-odd days. I'm a French and German speaking Brusseleïr that "emigrated" to Wallonia after a childhood in Vlaanderen. What Belgians like me care about is what always made Belgium special: it's a damn-well run little place that manages to combine Germanic levels of productivity with a certain Latin nonchalance, for the greater benefit of the vast majority of its citizens.

    Whenever federal politicos lose sight of this fact and get side-tracked into battles around issues, like BHV, that most of us don't understand and that fewer care about, we suffer.

    Yet we have a lesson to teach the world (as I wrote a while ago for Under our care-taker government, parliamentary coalitions were like shifting sands, cobbled together or falling apart depending on the legislative agenda. Socialists prevent conservatives from lowering taxes too much, and conservatives return the favour by preventing socialists from boosting welfare spending too much. The Greens prevent the liberals from extending the lifetime of nuclear plants, while the liberals cull the most senseless of the renewable energy subsidies. And so son.

    Almost every party in Parliament can, from day to day, be in favour or against something (for example, everyone was in favour of the Libya campaign, but only liberals and Flemish nationalists mooted a restrictive immigration law.) Since there’s no government, there’s no majority whip arm-twisting governing parties into line. Parties are thus free to respond to their electorates’ wishes. That encourages everyone to deal: one can’t piss another party off too much, since it might be needed tomorrow. While pundits bemoan the nation’s inability to govern itself, new legislation is broadly technocratic. No wonder the bond markets were (until a week or so ago) quiet.

    Parliaments reflect the whole range of voters’ opinions. In America, Congress, with members ranging from the Michelle Bachmann right to the Pete Stark left, is a far more diverse place than the Obama Administration. But whereas Congress tries to serve 300 million Americans with a mere two parties, Belgium’s 10 parties cater to the needs of 11 million people. Can you think of an example like this, in another country?

    Governments are usually winner-takes-all affairs. For one term the majority lords it over the opposition. Since those who voted for the opposition often get screwed in the process, the next time they win, they will try to screw the former majority in their turn. Wild swings of policy may result, often with detrimental effects on anything from the public debt to the educational system.

    What Belgium stumbled upon is a radical yet effective form of postmodern governance. Getting rid of the governing majority vs. opposition model lets parties come together and drift apart depending on their innate differences. Policy is more often passed on its merits. All parties have an interest in being constructive at least some of the time. And they are all free to protect the interests of their constituents.

    No wonder Belgium is more democratic than most: the Swiss National Science Foundation ranks it as the third-most democratic country on earth. The US? It’s ranked number ten, following Luxembourg. Given how well the place works without proper leadership, there’s probably something to be learned from the alien character of contemporary Belgian politics.

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