After sixteen months of negotiations, the Belgians have a government

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“We did what seemed impossible for a long time.” A year and four months after the elections, the Belgians have succeeded: Belgium will regain a full federal government. Alexander De Croo (liberals, Open VLD) will lead the coalition of liberals, socialists, Christian Democrats and Greens for the remaining three and a half years until the next elections. For the first time in ten years, Belgium will have a Fleming again as prime minister. At a press conference in which he and co-formator Paul Magnette (socialists, PS) spoke to the Belgians in two languages, De Croo promised on Wednesday morning to “do politics in a different way”: “with more respect for each other and different opinions”. Details from the coalition agreement were not yet disclosed there.

The formateurs hoped to be able to go to the king with an agreement on Monday evening, but that had to wait. The parties have not yet agreed on the budget. In a series of marathon talks on Tuesday and Wednesday night, the expenditure on new policy was eventually reduced from around 11 to 3.2 billion euros, VRT Nieuws reports, which has already seen a number of details from the parties’ program. According to the public broadcaster, there are no major surprises in the agreement. 2.3 billion euros goes to social policy, including raising the minimum pension to 1,500 euros per month – a demand from the socialists. Furthermore, additional investments are made in health care, safety and rail.

It will not be an obvious reign for the new government. Not only does it have to lead the Belgians through the corona crisis, with a budget deficit that has already risen to about 33 billion this year, the center coalition can also expect strong opposition in the coming years. The extreme ends of the political spectrum, on the far right the Vlaams Belang and on the far left the PVDA, are not represented in the new government, while they grew fastest in the elections. The right-wing conservative N-VA, the largest party in Belgium, is also not in the government. Moreover, the coalition does not have a majority in Flanders. N-VA and Vlaams Belang think that the government does not respect the election results as a result. “We will destroy them,” said N-VA chairman Bart De Wever last week about the impending coalition. Vlaams Belang organized a demonstration on Sunday that attracted thousands of demonstrators.

Political split

The last full-fledged government of Belgium fell in December 2018. In the elections that followed in May 2019, the French-speaking Belgium mainly won left-wing parties, while in Flanders the right flank grew the fastest. The regional governments in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels were then formed relatively quickly. But the federal government formation turned out to be extremely complex. Over the last almost eighteen months, twenty ‘royal commissioners’, ‘initiators’, informateurs and preformers have passed in review to bring together a majority.

Attempts to gain a majority in both parts of the country by bringing together the largest parties on each side of the language border, the French-speaking socialists of the PS and the Flemish nationalists of N-VA, finally failed last month. As a result, the previously fired ‘Vivaldi coalition’, referring to the four colors (seasons) of the seven parties involved, became an option again.

Until recently, that combination did not seem to make it either. Just last week, the negotiations were temporarily halted completely, because the president of the French liberals suddenly claimed the post of prime minister for his party in the media. But an approaching deadline moved the negotiations. Currently, Belgium is governed by a temporary corona government. Her mandate expires on October 1. Due to the prospect of elections, formateurs Paul Magnette and Alexander De Croo managed to force an agreement between the Vivaldi parties in the last week.

On Wednesday, the parties involved still have to convince their members of that agreement. If all goes well, wait for the swearing-in and the government statement on Thursday. Just under 500 days after the elections, Belgium will have a full government. That is less than the Belgian and world formation record from 2011, which stands at 541 days.







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