The Belgian election monitoring

Analysis - Two down, four to go!

On Friday 19 July, 54 days after the elections of 26 May 2019, two governments are formed: the German Community government and the Brussels-Capital Regional government. In the German Community the existing coalition between German nationalists, liberals and socialists has been maintained. In Brussels the socialists (PS and sp.a), greens (Ecolo-Groen), francophone social liberals (Défi) and Flemish liberals (Open VLD) have found an agreement (see picture). The French-speaking liberals, MR, are not a part of the Brussels government despite the pressure of Open VLD to get them on board.  The liberals did so, to present themselves as one political family and strengthen their position for the federal government negotiations. It also seems that excluding MR from the Brussels government gave way to a clash between the Brussels-based local Open VLD and the national leadership. Apparently, Brussels Open VLD gave up on MR to soon without authorisation from Open VLD President, Gwendolyn Rutten. In Flanders, the slow progress on the federal level made N-VA (Flemish nationalists) president Bart De Wever decide to, unexpectedly, halt the negotiations for a Flemish regional government. It is however expected that the current coalition of N-VA, CD&V (Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats) and Open VLD will eventually agree to start their second term together. This because of the following reasons: a majority with Vlaams Belang seems unlikely, this coalition provided the largest majority wih the least number of parties and the continuation of a center-right government. The decision by N-VA thus looks very contradictory, as the Flemish nationalists always claim that the regions should take the political lead in Belgium. In their view, the federal government could then be shaped by the parties forming the regional governments. What happens now, is that N-VA needs to have a voice federally in order to put confederalism on the table. They thus want to put pressure on Open VLD and CD&V to not engage in any federal coalition without N-VA. If Open VLD and CD&V were to decide to step in on a federal government without N-VA, it will probably trigger a serious crisis at Flemish level. In Wallonia PS and Ecolo failed to form a coquelicot (poppy) coalition, i.e. a minority government with PS and Ecolo. This now obliges PS and Ecolo to form a government with MR, since the two other parties cdH (Christian Democrats) and PTB (communists) clearly opted for the opposition. A government between PS and MR, excluding Ecolo, would however also have a majority in parliament.  Considering what happened in Brussels, where Ecolo made a clear choice to exclude MR, it remains to be seen what the consequences of that decision will be on the formation of the Walloon government. However, it is likely that a purple-green government will be formed by the end of August. On the federal level nothing seems to move.  The “informateurs” Johan Vande Lanotte (sp.a, Dutch-speaking socialists) and Didier Reynders (MR) will hand over a ‘pre-formateur memo’  to the King on 29 July 2019. It is rather unlikely that this memo will kick off negotiations on the federal level, as the biggest parties, PS and N-VA, refuse to talk to one another. PS hopes to form a government with a purple-green axis, excluding the Flemish nationalists. However, for this to happen, Open VLD and CD&V, are key factors of the equation. The catch-22 of these negotiations is thus the question whether those parties dare to step into a federal government with a Flemish minority, meaning a coalition without N-VA. But also credibility-wise, how can a party that first supported a centre-right government, now explain it takes part in a centre-left government? To be continued... Disregarding the option of re-elections, mathematics and party stances indicate that the two possible coalitions are:

Purple/green (PS, Ecolo, MR, Spa, Groen, Open VLD and CD&V)Burgundy coalition (N-VA, Open VLD, Spa, MR, PS), possibly extended with CD&V.

As mentioned above the first coalition does not have a Flemish majority. The second coalition would probably lead to a new discussion about the division of competences between the regions and the federal state. In conclusion, the toughest nuts still remain to be cracked. With the federal government negotiations yet to begin and the Flemish government linking its destiny to the developments on a federal level, not a lot of movement is expected in the next weeks. The longest government formation stands at 541 days. We are a long way from breaking that 2014 record, but the complete standstill nowadays, does not bode well. In the meantime Belgium is a governed by a minority government controlling a mere 38 of the 150 seats in the federal parliament.