‘You don’t do a major state reform “en stoemelings”‘ – Belgium

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Suddenly she was there: the great state reform. Because of the corona crisis and the fatigue about the formation, an agreement threatens to become more important than the agreement. Parties and chairmen who do not simply accept it risk the label of difficult people. That is dangerous. The fatigue about government formation is understandable, but it must not lead to indifference. The protracted formation is now inexplicable, but the solution must also be explainable.

Both of our parties enter into a dialogue with the royal commissioners to try to achieve a result. The efforts of Bart De Wever and Paul Magnette deserve appreciation. But that appreciation should not blind us to the possible consequences. The sum of their desperation threatens to lead to more desperate situations. The merger of the power interests of PS and N-VA, each in ‘their’ own part of the country, will divide our country even more into separate islands. A solution that appears to be stable in the short term threatens to give rise to additional instability and even more complexity and fragmentation relatively quickly.

Far-reaching Community reforms are on the table, of which there is hardly any debate in Flanders at the moment. However, the scope of the proposals is clearly underestimated. From day 1, federal policy could be divided into content in important areas such as the police or the judiciary. Sensitive files such as Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde are again on the table. These are themes that were not discussed during the election debates in the run-up to May 26, 2019.

Corona can hardly be used as an argument. A more extensive fragmentation of powers is at least at odds with the first conclusions about the difficult management of the crisis, namely that more unity of command must be achieved. Moreover, the particularly difficult crisis is precisely an argument not to immediately start working on a complex state reform, but to focus in the first instance on the health crisis and the economic recovery.

Within 2 years, new federal elections would be organized with a constitution at that time declared open to revision from the first to the last article. It opens a Pandora’s box, and it will be the start of years of community wrangling. We then get a succession of three elections (federal, regional and local) over a three-year period. There will then be more inertia, more extremism and anti-politics will emerge even further.

Between 2007 and 2010 we sat together as young MPs. It was ‘the emergency response period’, our country under the spell of a problematic constituency that was resolved within 5 minutes of political courage. The result was a long period of current affairs with Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who had made BHV a priority with his cartel. For us as young MEPs, it meant a period of a lot of freedom, opportunities for profiling and some modest progressive breakthroughs. But for our country it was a time of stagnation in which almost all major social challenges were snowed under, and of which we are still suffering the negative consequences.

Because that’s how it goes in Belgian politics. When state reform, facilities and constituencies are discussed, other vital themes disappear to the second and third plan. Then it is not about the divergent visions of liberals and greens about the labor market, taxation or mobility, but about the seemingly irreconcilable contradictions between the Flemish and the Walloons.

We don’t want that again. Not in this multiple crisis. Certainly not ‘and stoemeling‘. Politics is about making agreements, but a deal between two parties is not enough to legitimize certain avenues that now exist. 25% of the votes, the score of N-VA and PS together, is not a mandate to divide the country so drastically. A serious public social and political debate on the state reform is a minimum.

Therefore, do what was decided a year ago in the Flemish coalition agreement: set up an open reflection among representatives of the people about the institutional future of this country with input from academics. Why not involve citizens with forms of deliberative democracy? What do the doctors, the nurses and the people who run our hospitals want? What do our teachers and school principals who care for our children want? What do the self-employed, employees and employers who support our economy want? What do the cities and municipalities that know best the needs of the local population want? What reforms are really helping them?

It would be a victory over particration, which is now rightly under attack. The more people think along, the better the outcome. With some oxygen from outside party politics, we will hopefully get past the taboos and the well-trodden paths. Such a democratic constructive reflection should make our Belgian home more efficient, more transparent and cheaper: a country where people get their money’s worth with fewer professional politicians, less fragmentation and a better service.

Analysts may interpret this joint open letter as yet another strategic move. It is an open secret that we were both advocates of a purple-green government in November last year. Arguments back then in favor of such a coalition are also demonstrated today. But that’s not the point now. There is a threat of a democratic deficit, and we warn against this while we still can. The heat and the quarantine wear off, but it is no time to doze off.

This letter could also give the impression that state reform is suddenly our greatest passion. The opposite is true. In the coming years we hope to be able to be a liberal and ecologist without any complexities, instead of being reduced to a supporter of the Flemish or Belgian cause. We therefore still hope for a fully-fledged federal government that will focus on what is really important today: health, jobs, climate, and safety.

It is complicated, but not impossible. It is difficult, but not impossible.

Mathias De Clercq (Open VLD) is mayor of Ghent. Tinne Van der Straeten (Groen) is a federal representative.

Suddenly she was there: the great state reform. Because of the corona crisis and the fatigue about the formation, an agreement threatens to become more important than the agreement. Parties and chairpersons who do not simply accept it risk the label of difficult people. That is dangerous. The tiredness about government formation is understandable, but it should not lead to indifference. The protracted formation is meanwhile inexplicable, but the solution must also be explainable. Both parties enter into a dialogue with the royal commissioners to try to reach a result. The efforts of Bart De Wever and Paul Magnette deserve appreciation. But that appreciation should not blind us to the possible consequences. The sum of their desperation threatens to lead to more desperate situations. The merger of the power interests of PS and N-VA, each in ‘their’ own part of the country, will divide our country even more into separate islands. An apparently stable solution in the short term threatens to give rise to additional instability and even more complexity and fragmentation relatively quickly. However, the scope of the proposals is clearly underestimated. From day 1, federal policy in important areas such as the police or the judiciary could be divided into content. Sensitive files such as Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde are again on the table. These are themes that were not discussed during the election debates leading up to May 26, 2019, and Corona can hardly be used as an argument. A more extensive fragmentation of powers is at least at odds with the first conclusions about the difficult management of the crisis, namely that more unity of command must be achieved. The particularly difficult crisis is also an argument not to immediately start working on a complex state reform, but to focus in the first instance on the health crisis and the economic recovery. New federal elections would be organized within 2 years. moment a constitution that is declared subject to revision from the first to the last article. It opens a Pandora’s box, and it will be the start of years of community wrangling. We then get a succession of three elections (federal, regional and local) over a three-year period. There is a threat of more inertia, more extremism and anti-politics will emerge even further. Between 2007 and 2010 we sat together as young MPs. It was ‘the emergency response period’, our country under the spell of a problematic constituency that was resolved within 5 minutes of political courage. The result was a long period of current affairs with Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who had made BHV a priority with his cartel. For us as young MPs, it meant a period of great freedom, opportunities for profiling and some modest progressive breakthroughs. But for our country it was a time of stagnation in which just about all important social challenges were snowed under, and of which we still bear the negative consequences, because that’s how it goes in Belgian politics. When state reform, facilities and constituencies are discussed, other vital themes disappear to the second and third plan. This is not about the divergent visions of liberals and greens about the labor market, taxation or mobility, but about the seemingly unbridgeable contradictions between the Flemish and the Walloons. We do not want that again. Not in this multiple crisis. Certainly not ‘en stoemelings’. Politics is about making agreements, but a deal between two parties is not enough to legitimize certain avenues that now exist. 25% of the votes, the score of N-VA and PS together, is not a mandate to divide the country so drastically. A serious public social and political debate is a minimum on the state reform, so do what was decided a year ago in the Flemish coalition agreement: set up an open reflection among representatives of the people about the institutional future of this country with input from academics. Why not involve citizens in this with forms of deliberative democracy? What do the doctors, the nurses and the people who run our hospitals want? What do our teachers and school principals who care for our children want? What do the self-employed, employees and employers who support our economy want? What do the cities and municipalities that know best the needs of the local population want? What reforms are really helping them? It would be a victory over the private sector, which is now rightly under attack. The more people think along, the better the outcome. With some oxygen from outside party politics, we will hopefully get past the taboos and the well-trodden paths. Such a democratic constructive reflection should make our Belgian home more efficient, transparent and cheaper: a country where people get their money’s worth with fewer professional politicians, less fragmentation and better service. Analysts may interpret this joint open letter as yet another strategic move. . It is an open secret that we were both advocates of a purple-green government in November last year. Arguments back then in favor of such a coalition are also demonstrated today. But that’s not the point now. There is a threat of a democratic deficit, and we warn against this while we still can. The heat and the quarantine wear off, but it is no time to doze off. This letter could also give the impression that state reform is suddenly our greatest passion. The opposite is true. In the coming years, we hope to be able to be a liberal and ecologist without any complexities, instead of being reduced to a supporter of the Flemish or Belgian cause. We therefore still hope for a fully-fledged federal government, which will focus on what is really important today: health, jobs, climate, and safety. It’s most compliqué, but not impossible. It is difficult, but impossible. Mathias De Clercq (Open VLD) is mayor of Ghent. Tinne Van der Straeten (Groen) is federal representative.

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