By Tijs De Geyndt
On the Federal level the Dutch speaking parties and the French speaking parties have to reach a governmental agreement to form a majority coalition.
The current government was formed by N-VA (nationalist conservatives), CD&V (Christian Democrats), open VLD (Liberals) on the Flemish side accompanied by only MR (Liberals) on the French speaking side. MR received 25% of the votes (only French speaking people can vote for French speaking parties and vice versa) and delivered half of the ministers as determined by Belgian constitution and the Prime Minister, Charles Michel. Paving the way for the first so called centre-right Swedish coalition (referring to the mosaic of different party colours). This was the first time in 25 years that the French speaking socialist party (PS) was ousted out of government. What originally was perceived as a coalition with relatively few ideological contradictions soon turned into a quibbling coalition, with former cartel partners N-VA and CD&V in a prominent role. N-VA, once the junior brother in a cartel that ended in 2008, has now grown to be the most popular party, as the only Flemish party hovering around 30% in opinion polls. CD&V on the other hand is struggling to keep the middle ground that for decades made them the most prominent party of Flanders. Then, following the resignation of N-VA in October, the government lost its majority. Analysts have seen the resignation of N-VA over the issue of the UN migration Pact mostly as a strategic move: officially N-VA set an ultimatum to prime minister Michel to make a last minute withdraw out of the non-binding pact they themselves had jointly negotiated. This turn of events suggests that the revival of Vlaams Belang, the extreme right party, caused N-VA to take ever more tougher positions on migration. Furthermore it seems likely that the scandal that broke out a couple of weeks later, related to humanitarian visas being handed out by an NV-A party member in return for illicit fees up to €10,000, would compromise the position of the popular N-VA Minister of Migration, Theo Francken.
After a failed attempt by Charles Michel to persuade the parliament to back his minority government, the PM saw no other option then to resign, and the government has since been in ‘current affairs’.
The fall of the government half a year before the new elections has struck wounds between the (former) coalition partners and polls suggest the formation of a similar coalition to be unlikely. Although a majority on the Flemish side between N-VA, CD&V and open-VLD is still possible, the ideological gap between the Northern region (Flanders), Brussels and the South (Wallonia) has widened. MR loses an estimated 7 % compared to the last federal elections. And it’s there that the formation will become tricky. The Parti Socialiste is determined to make their way back to power, much to the dislike of NV-A. Both parties have ruled out joining a coalition together.
The Green party in turn is expected to grow substantially both in Flanders at 14%, similar to the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, but most notably in Wallonia, second after PS, and especially in Brussels, where they are set to become the biggest force. Recent polls suggest they might even become the biggest political family of the country. This again worries N-VA, they have been insinuating that the return of the Green’s (and socialists) into government would bring a “tsunami of taxes” and undermine the nations economic competitiveness.
So, on the Federal level a swift formation of government will prove to be difficult. NV-A doesn’t feel like sharing power with parties on the other side of the ideological spectrum, nor are they a preferential partner for any of the French speaking parties. MR is an exception, but they realise they cannot join the government as the only party from the Walloon side, especially after being electorally punished for doing so last time.
Another difficult option is a broad coalition of Greens, Socialists, Christian-Democrats and Liberals. But the question is whether CD&V and notably the Liberals will feel at ease in such a progressive, left leaning coalition. This is what might worry N-VA leader Bart De Wever: if this big coalition sets sail, it will leave his party NV-A on the side-line despite being the biggest party of the country. Another option is, as mentioned, an ever-ongoing formation and deep political crisis that shakes the country to its constitutional core. This is a scenario that NV-A has been alluding to. It would give them the chance to bring the “solution” of confederalism back to the table, whereby all remaining authority on the Federal level gets transferred to the regions.