Thursday, 17 July 2014

Still puzzling

 Fifty-three days after the elections there is still not a single government formed in Belgium (nor an official proposal for the Belgian candidate for the next European Commission). But the sky is full of rumours about personal careers, probable coalitions, great expectations for the days to come and above all the fact that all these backroom-discussions  are intensely interlinked.

 The only concrete news of the last two weeks was the agreement the parties negotiating a new government for the Brussels region announced on Monday, with a slight rise in the property taxes as most discussed element. Socialists and Christian democrats of both communities, the Flemish liberals and the French-speaking Brussels nationalists will – at least formally - rule the Capital region for the next five years.

 But the Brussels parties concerned are not in a hurry to confirm the agreement through votes in party congresses, or by nominating the new ministers. This  coincides with the unusual long time it takes to form both the Flemish and the Walloon regional governments. For the former the Flemish nationalists and Christian democrats are negotiating, for the latter the socialists and Christian democrats.

 Most observers think this has to do with the formation of the federal government. There the ‘informateur’, Mr. Charles Michel, who after twenty days still has to make his first official statement, seems to be working at an unusual centre-right coalition of the two liberal parties, the Flemish nationalists and the Flemish Christian democrats.

  Such a coalition would have a clear majority in the federal parliament (85/150), but would be supported by only 20 of the 63 French-speaking MEP’s. The constitution allows this, but politically it is a delicate affair. Mr. Michels MR, confronted with the perspective of being excluded from power in the regions for a period of 15 years (since 2004), seems now nevertheless ready to take the risk, even in a coalition with the Flemish nationalists.

 But there are other obstacles, most of them officially unconfirmed, that have to be put aside. To name but a few: the Flemish Christian democrats want to obtain a mandate as government leader either in the Flemish or the Belgian government (probably for their figurehead during the elections, Mr. Kris Peeters, although he did not score that well and although they are only the 4th group in Parliament nowadays); the Flemish liberals want to be part of both the regional and the federal government (whereas the former is almost formed without them); the next European commissioner is part of the deal and not yet designated. Only the Flemish nationalists do not make great fuzz about possible mandates, as they are in the comfortable position of having anyway far more of it than before the elections.

 It is now generally accepted that the different negotiations are strongly interlinked. In the end it is indeed the party-headquarters who decide who becomes what, and in which government. Political parties are the strongest institutions in Belgium, making all talks about federalism, confederalism or separatism slightly irrelevant.

 A likely scenario therefore is that the negotiations for the regional coalitions in Flanders and Wallonia will land somewhere early next week, and that shortly thereafter Mr. Michel will be able to announce the formal start of negotiations for a federal government in the unusual centre-right structure with his party as the only one representing the French-speaking voters. These negotiations could then, with a more or less official break for a week or two, lead to a new government somewhere in September.

But, as said, nothing is official, nothing is confirmed. Much can still go wrong, and change.




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