It’s been a week since little Belgium woke up to a new political reality. An explosion of analyses, opinions, forecasts and suggestions have been spilled all over the media. Let’s refresh and make a recap of strategic and less strategic moves.
Federal formation: mission impossible, Tom Cruise not found yet.
King Philip might have sunken a bit more into his throne as soon as he started to hear the results come in. But with fresh enthusiasm he took up his task next day. He started inviting all party leaders, even Tom van Grieken (Vlaams Belang). Much to the disgust and despair of French speaking Belgium.
As expected NV-A brought the idea of confederalism to the table. In an excellent column journalist Wouter Verschelden points out that although party leader Bart De Wever didn’t win the elections, his analysis did. De Wever has been arguing that Belgium is “hardly more than the sum of two different countries”. Pointing out the difference in style, media, interests etc. makes governing on a federal level to be nearly impossible. Concluding that the system is the cause of the malfunctioning. From that perspective the Gordian knot to form a new federal coalition is only more proof that Belgium Inc. doesn’t work. The morning after the elections De Wever, never too shy to throw in a one-liner, joked: “The king will need Dafalgans, those of one gram, the heavy ones.”
Meanwhile Elio Di Rupo (PS) openly advocated the idea of forming a coalition with CD&V, Open-Vld, sp.a & Groen ignoring NV-A even as this would mean that the Flemish still wouldn’t have a majority in parliament in such coalition. This added to further frustration and mistrust between both biggest parties of the country. With Jan Jambon (NV-A) stating this would be “a negation of the will of the people”. Adding that this is clearly another sign of the French speaking socialists ‘unworldliness’. Needless to say that after a mere three days it already appeared that the formation of the federal government found itself in a deadlock.
Even though Thursday was officially a holiday, it did not our king from making an official first move by appointing Johan Vandelanotte en Didier Reynders as ‘formateurs’. Both eminent politicians have been in and around Belgian politics for decades but have set aside further ambitions on that level. Vandelanotte bid farewell to national politics after losing his position as mayor of Ostend. Reynders on the other hand is hoping to be in pole-position for a top function in the next EU Commission.
That way their personal ambitions shouldn’t hinder the public good too much, so the wisdom goes. Vlaams Belang was quick to point out that they don’t reflect the voter’s choice of preference. Yet most observers see it as a strategic move to improve talks between the different parties on both sides of the language border. With Vandelanotte having good relations with PS and Reynders having worked together, relatively well, with NV-A in the past years.
Formateurs are sent into the political minefield to defuse as many tensions as possible in order to enhance coalition talks in a next stage by the ‘formateur’. Interesting enough the previous record breaking round of formation talks in 2010-11 gave birth to all kinds of concepts for the appointed experts to defuse the situation: political explorers, a royal helpers, ‘mine-defusers’, mediators… We can only start imagining which royal creativity there is in store for us the coming months.