God sons for government
After an interruption of two months due to the corona crisis, the game in Belgian politics starts from the beginning. Last weekend the sun was shining in the Wetstraat. Two gifts of God came down to the rescue. Paul Magnette (PS) and Conner Rousseau (sp.a) had silently started consulting party chairmen. They didn’t want to keep doing that too quietly, so they scoured the media to say nothing about their discreet conversations. They were promptly crowned saviors of the fatherland.
According to the two socialists, a matrix had to provide a solution. A table with the wishes and aspirations of the various parties. Something every study department should be able to make. Or any observant observer. But there was jubilation because Magnette and Rousseau would ask the party leaders themselves. People are talking again! Although according to rumors there has been talked between some for some time.
Magnette and Rousseau did not want to be pinned down on a result. There would also be no note, just the matrix. The journalists were able to enthusiastically focus on the question: who have they already talked to, who are they talking to this week?
What about King Philippe?
But on Wednesday it turned out that not everyone was at ease with the action of the two socialist presidents. Economist Wim De Wulf wrote an open letter to King Filip on the VRT website. According to De Wulf, the corona crisis exacerbates Belgian problems such as “complex and expensive state structures, difficult decision-making procedures, polarized and time-consuming disputes and regional alienation. In short: the generally shared analysis of Belgium.
According to De Wulf, politicians alone cannot save us from that. It takes honest people with a “cool head and a warm heart”, “who are above the regional, ideological, social and party political interest groups.” Sure enough, according to the economist, King Philippe should lead the reform process of Belgium. The economist proposes to the king that “within your constitutional powers as king, set up a Special Commission (or have it set up by others) to improve the performance of political, social and economic government policy.”
According to an insider, such an opinion is a very big coincidence just in the week that politics takes the initiative to form a government without the king. “Phoned” it sounds. In Belgian, royalist circles, they apparently got nervous about the socialist initiative. So nervous that they actually want the king to take a political initiative.
The letter was not widely publicized in the press. The balloon that had been released deflated silently. This was also because on the same day George-Louis-Bouchez (MR) received the two socialist matrix builders. To be on the safe side, Bouchez coincided with an interview, including several shots ahead.
Bouchez called the initiative of the socialist presidents “a mini-coup“. He wondered where Rousseau and Magnette got the right to take their initiative. Bouchez had a different proposal. Building around a core of MR and PS and N-VA, Open Vld and CD&V. The five largest parties in the country and a majority in both language groups, says Bouchez, without forgetting Vlaams Belang. Just no reflection government. Ah no, because Bouchez now wants to get rid of Ecolo / Groen.
The latter is still remarkable. Bouchez and Gwendolyne Rutten (Open Vld) were among the major advocates of purple-green, you know the Vivaldi coalition, a few months earlier the topic in the government formation soap.
Non Nollet non
But both PS and MR would meanwhile be fed up with the Walloon government with Ecolo. The figure of President Jean-Marc Nollet and his strong hold on the ministers would be a particular problem. Ecolo is not really necessary in that Walloon government.
Without Ecolo, Bouchez’s proposal is a “reflection government”, a federal government formed by the coalition partners of the regional governments (leaving Brussels there for a moment). And so the socialist president tandem is played apart. The PS then becomes somewhat isolated and de-activates the Swedish coalition. Which also makes that unlikely again. The soap’s cliffhanger this week?
Unreliable in the back room
In the meantime, we learned that the conversation between Bouchez and Rousseau-Magnette was constructive. There was little evidence of the tough language in the media. “Unreliable” and “smug” is the opinion of Bouchez among many followers. But if both Bouchez and Magnette are unreliable after his performance in mid-March, how can a government be formed? In Belgium, party leaders in backrooms form governments. They defend agreements made in their party.
So we are back to square one. A year after the elections, the composition of the federal government is discussed in Wetstraat. A year after May 26, 2019, the politicians are discussing in the media about who should take the initiative to form that government. Each position, of course, has been influenced by the coalition that is considered most beneficial at the time.
Voters drop out
In the meantime, we look at the largest socio-economic and social crisis since World War II. Unemployment is rising, the budget deficit is widening. The solidified Belgian structure creaks and appears to be unable to provide a fast and reliable answer to the challenges that continue to come to us at a rapid pace. And yet there are those who argue for the re-federalization of powers.
And if nothing changes, all elections will coincide again in 2024. Then, in Belgian politics, the game of the scary hare can start again.
It seems normal to me that voters drop out. The politicians also seem to have dropped out. We can no longer afford the luxury of political standstill.