The crucial question for the new government


Bart Eeckhout is editor-in-chief.

Monday evening 27 May 2019, one day after the elections. In the news of the French-speaking RTBF from Elio Di Rupo, then PS chairman, his preference for a government without N-VA. “But”, he adds, “the question is whether she (the other Flemish parties, ed.) have the strength and the political will to join a federal government without a Flemish majority in the House. ” In the end it will have taken almost 500 days before that question could be answered positively. And then it is still a birth with the proverbial irons.

The answer to the question of why it had to take so long is hidden in the words of Di Rupo at the time. With his early statement, the PS chief abused his future interlocutors who had suffered severe electoral trauma. They were either psychological losers (Green) or very real losers in middle parties (CD&V, Open Vld and sp.a) who are gradually fighting for their survival.

Rather than a lack of mutual trust, this shows a matter of a lack of empathetic insight into each other’s minds. Much time has been lost. And a lot of confidence in the political institutions has seeped away. This government is therefore starting its fight uphill.

And now? After days and nights of intense negotiation, you would expect that the understanding of each other’s nerve spots and Achilles tendons has finally grown. The crucial question for the new federal government is: do the partners now take each other’s sore spots into account? It’s their only chance of success.

It is neither the precision of the budget tables nor the wording of the tax and pension agreements that determine the possible success of this government. What counts is the mutual cohesion. Does this motley collection of competing parties have the determination to work it out together? Or do they fight each other out of the tent at the first opportunity? That is the point.

When in the summer of 2014, the center-right Michel government took the oath, here and there the praise of the ‘unique’, ‘coherent’ composition of the coalition was sung with emotion. It led to one of the most disappointing reigns in recent history, with an electoral blow for all participating parties. It was precisely because distrust blew through the government like a bleak wind that things could go terribly wrong.

Two opposite predictions can be derived from this. Or it will only get worse. With opposing partners, ambiguous agreements and nervous supporters, this cannot be ruled out. Or, after this extremely difficult formation, it can only get better. As columnist Alain Gerlache stated in the weekend newspaper: “Belgian politics is so erratic and unpredictable that even success cannot be ruled out.”

Citizens expect little from it. The government may surprise them.

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