Monday, 26 May 2014

The hour of the Flemish nationalists


The Flemish nationalist party NVA is again the biggest winner of parliamentary and regional elections in Belgium last Sunday. It's leader, Mr. Bart de Wever, has already indicated his willingness to form the next national government and the regional one in Flanders.  But the six parties that governed the country under the leadership of mr. Elio di Rupo for the last two years, did not lose, except for the socialists. They might still go for a second term.

Mr. De Wever and his party finally obtained a better result than even the polls had predicted, gaining 4,4 % of the votes in Flanders, and ending up with 33 seats (+6) in the federal parliament of 150. The Lower House has not seen such a strong group for forty years. The second largest group, the Parti socialiste of the prime minister, has now 24 seats (-2).

The other parties of the outgoing coalition kept their seats (Flemish socialists SPA and French-speaking Christian democrats CDH) or gained one (both liberal parties MR and VLD, and the Flemish Christian democrats CDV). The only big loser is the Flemish extreme right and nationalist Vlaams Belang, that lost 9 seats. Ten years ago, in regional elections, it was once the biggest party in Flanders with 24 % of the votes, but its electorate has almost completely been taken over by the NVA.

  Mr. De Wever is now clearly poised to take up the command of the formation of a new Belgian government. In the last days before the polls he for the first time said he was ready to do so ‘if needed’. His mission will be complicated by the fact that Sunday also four new regional parliaments were elected, and governments have to be formed there too. De Wever has indicated his preference for coalitions without the socialists - who have been continuously in the government since 1988. The poll results create some opportunities for such a scenario.

 But as always it will need time an delicate manoeuvring to achieve such combinations. At least the Flemish parties are willing to leave the initiative now totally to Mr. de Wever, some in the obvious hope that he will break his neck along the road. Then a return to the present coalition could be proposed as the inevitable alternative. But there were warnings on Monday that such a scenario would be quite a rebuke of the will of a large part of the Flemish electorate, with the risk of creating still more frustration and instability.

 So Belgium is in for many weeks if not months of negotiations again, although everybody is swearing holy oaths that it should not take 540 days this time. In the meantime European elections went along almost unnoticed. The liberals of Mr. Verhofstadt, the former prime minister who made an excellent personal score, are now the largest group in Belgium with 6 seats (+1). The Christian democrats and socialists ended up with 4 (for both a loss of one). That is as much as the Flemish nationalist (+ 3) who will decide in the next days which group in the new European Parliament they will join.


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