Elections in Belgium: one month later, beginning of the end or end of the beginning?

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Banner ChambreAccording to the tradition of Belgian politics, the most successful political party leads the talk to build a government coalition. In the first move, it should consult every party that presented itself to the voters and got a reasonably good score, as well as social partners. After this first warm-up exercise, the leaders announce starting negotiations with some other political parties, already named. The bargaining would be about the writing of a “Declaration of Regional/Belgian Politics”. This text is the vertebral spin of the next five years: the policies that will be implemented are laid down and discussed among future partners and the reference to the Declaration is most of the time considered as an authoritative argument. The term “partner” is used as it is extremely rare in Belgian politics that the talks fail and that negotiations resume with other political parties. It only happened for the federal government. What is then the status of the different negotiations?

Another ‘more-than-one-year-period without a government’ in Belgium?

One government already exists. It is the German-speaking community of Belgium (located in the Province of Liège, close to the German border) which was the pioneer, and has formed a government already in May, 29th. These were actually the easiest talks to be led… the territory is composed of nine communes and the population is less than 80.000 inhabitants. However, tiny does not mean less surprising. The alliance is actually composed of the socialists, the liberals and… a pro-autonomy party. The latter, Pro-DG or Pro Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft, is asking the other federated entities for the recognition of the German-speaking community as a proper region*.  It is interessting that in the government there was no place for one of the most important parties in the community- the CSP (socio-catholic party). Benoît Lutgen, leader of the cdH (French speaking-catholic party, Wallon region)  asked to include in the negotiations also the CSP (German-speaking equivalent of the cdH), as it got the highest number of seats in the local Parliament. However, the negotiators considered it as an “unacceptable” intrusion into the local political life. 

In the Walloon region, which has a de facto ruling power on the German-speaking community, the negotiations are in an earlier stage. The Socialist Party and the cdH decided to start the talks regarding a coalition. It means that the Green party – an obvious looser of the last elections – was spelled out of the governmental coalition. At the end of last week, a clear sign of progress in the negotiations was visible in media and the presentation of the “Declaration of Regional Politics” is expected in the next week. The socialist party was in a dominant position after May, 25th while the catholic party was in a minor position regarding the talks.


Bart De Wever, wikimedia commons

We will probably see the first consequences of this balance of power in the federal negotiations in the following days. In Flanders, the NV-A, pro-independence party, was the winner of the elections. They decided to begin the talks with the Flemish catholic party CD&V to conclude a government. Here also the Declaration of Politics should be presented before July, 21st, date of Belgian national day.

When it comes to the formation of the Federal Government, Bart de Wever, President of NV-A, was mandated by the King to begin the consultations. This week, after one month of bargaining, he sent to other presidents of political parties a non-paper laying down the main lines of the next Government’s policies. Surprisingly, it contained only socio-economic elements and nothing related to institutional reforms. As written in the previous article, the reform of the State is old-fashion for this election and economic issues were at the forefront.

The ‘liberal conservatives’ ?

The second element worth mentioning is that NV-A decided to switch its political group in the European Parliament. During the 2009-2014 period, they were part of the GREENS-EFA. This time, after having negotiated with ALDE, they decided to join… the ECR. It is the only political party represented in the Federal Parliament which plans to join the Eurosceptics. For a pro-European country like Belgium, it sends a strong message but it is a part of a broader message formulated by NV-A – that their political identity is more developped than just being pro-independence. The non-paper was sent to the right-wing group and to the catholic ones. All eyes were turned towards cdH, the partner of the socialist party in Wallonia. Indeed, in this centre-right configuration, the socialist party is excluded (while it is present in the current Government without NV-A, even holding the seat of Prime Minister with Elio Di Rupo). So the latter put maximum pressure on the former to refuse the paper and thus the start of the real negotiations. In the evening of the 24th of June the press published a statement that the Party refused the non-paper. No doubt that its weak position in the Walloon region is one of the key elements of this rejection, as the PS wants to be part of the Federal Government. What will be next? Bart De Wever will talk to the King again just to announce that he was not able to fullfil his mission. During the last governmental crisis in 2007-2009, several persons were asked to lead the negotiations, including de Wever. Finally, the Government was formed without NV-A, after 541 days!

One month ago, Belgians were asked to vote. One month later, does Belgium have a government, as it would be the case (almost) everywhere else on the planet? First of all, it is worth reminding that we – Belgians – do not have just one government, but a few of them (Brussels and the French-speaking Community were excluded from this text). Secondly, the situation is not at the same status in every regional process, on a scale which could be framed as from “everything is open for all political parties” to “the Government is formed and functioning”. Thirdly, linkages are created among intra-Belgian political levels based upon the balance of power that emerged after May, 25th. Finally, the clock is ticking and we are already at D+30.

* Belgian federalism recognises a difference between communities (based upon a language and with competences related to people, such as education) and regions (based upon a territory, with greater powers).

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Quentin Genard

Graduate from the Faculty of Law and Political Science, University of Liège (MA, 2012) and the Department of European Political and Administrative Studies at the College of Europe in Bruges (MA 2013). Intern at the European Movement Belgium (2010) and the Group of Research and Information on Peace and Security (Brussels, 2013). He is since associated researcher at GRIP and member of the political cabinet of a Belgian Minister, dealing with European and International Affairs.

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