Belgium is petrified into political paralysis

Belgium is the viewpoint most high to catch a glimpse of the hectic political life of europe. Not only because of its status as the seat of the institutions of

Belgium is petrified into political paralysis

Belgium is the viewpoint most high to catch a glimpse of the hectic political life of europe. Not only because of its status as the seat of the institutions of the European Union and NATO. Their internal policy is marked by the major trends that run through the continent: the rise of the extreme right, the resurgence of nationalism, the decline of the big political families or the strength of the environmental movement. "Belgium is an anthology of european history", writes the artist and writer Patrick Corrillon in The trip to Belgium. This mosaic of political options in a country with several official languages has returned to bring Belgium to the political blockade. The parties continue to occur face to face in their attempts to sew a parliamentary majority that is representative of the results in Flanders and Wallonia, and, at the same time, back yourself into a corner on the ultra training flemish Vlaams Belang. Before the rise of the extreme right in the polls, the parties continue to explore all options to avoid the plan B: the convening of elections.

last christmas Eve, king Felipe decided to get out of the discourse is peaceful to issue a warning to the political class belgian: "Today, it is essential that we establish as soon as possible a federal Government with full functions, able to take decisions in a balanced and execute them with firmness. It is what we all have, without delay". The urgency of the king came a year after the parliamentary majority that supported the Executive of the liberal Charles Michel leaped through the air with the departure of five ministers of the flemish nationalist party N-VA for their rejection of Belgium to the signing of the global compact on migration of the united nations.

At the request of the king, Michel had to continue in office until the elections in may, which ended up resulting in a bow parliamentary arithmetic is almost impossible. Caroline Sägesser, a phd in History and researcher at the Centre for Research and Information socio-Political (CRISP, for its acronym in French), explains that the election highlighted three dynamics: "First, there was a fragmentation of the representation. Families socialist, liberal and conservative have lost weight in favour of the extreme right, extreme left, nationalists and environmentalists. Second, Belgium has hardly any national parties, but the formations are directed to the two communities. And third, the behavior of the voters in each of them was different: in Wallonia were to the left and in Flanders, right," he says.

The N-VA was the force with the most votes in Flanders and in the whole of Belgium to be with 25 of the 150 seats in Parliament. The second party in votes, both in that region as in the whole country, was the far-right Vlaams Belang, which won 18 seats. In Wallonia, in contrast, were imposed by the Socialist Party (20) and the greens of Ecolo (13). It has begun the process of rigor: king Philip appointed two politicians to explore the formation of a Government and then they decided to build a cordon sanitaire to the extreme right. After six months, Belgium has been stuck in a situation that already transited between 2010 and 2011, when it broke the record of the absence of a Government: 541 days of paralysis. It was the time of the call revolution of the frite (revolution of the potato chip), established as the national symbol of belgium. The society is mobilized to the lack of understanding just when Europe was experiencing one of its worst crises.

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Nearly a decade later, the cycle repeats, with the paradox that the formations had to agree to appoint a new prime minister in office, Sophie Wilmès, which would replace Michel, who in December took the reins of the European Council. The reporters appointed by the king have been happening without any of the combinations of parties, proposals have been set.

Belgium has created a vast catalogue to give a name to each of the coalitions possible. And is still expanding. Michel led a coalition of Swedish, because the colors and symbols of their parties evoked the flag of that country. And in the last six months have been put on the table two other formulas to achieve the 76 meps needed to form a Government: the so-called burgundian –by having the colors of the coat of arms of the Duchy of Burgundy between the N-VA, socialists and liberals, and the rainbow, with socialist, green and liberal walloons and flemish.

Abyss between socialist and flemish nationalist

The coexistence in the same cabinet between the socialists and the flemish nationalist, however, threatens to be a torment. Between both formations, there are more than a chasm, there is a "Grand Canyon", in the words of the euro mp of the N-VA and former chief Executive of flamenco, Geert Bourgeois. The socialists and greens are wary of a coalition with the flemish nationalist. During the election campaign, the leaders of the N-VA, which it shares with the group Vox in the Parliament, ridiculed the movement against climate change, very strong in Brussels, and proposed measures such as limiting the access of immigrants to Social Security, to increase the language requirements or to put an end to dual nationality.

After the king has decided to expand the mandate of the current negotiators, Belgium is looking for a new flag to define the coalition's attempt to now existing informants, and which have been defined as a "centrist, pragmatic". "The big political families no longer have a majority in the Parliament and require a broader coalition. The only option would be a pact between socialists, liberals, greens and christian democrats. Would have a parliamentary majority and would be at the doors of have it also in the flemish community", explains Jérémy Dodeigne, a political scientist at the University of Namur.

"Legally it is possible, but it is politically complicated," says Sägesser. But, in the opinion of this analyst, the big question is whether the N-VA wants to be in the Government. And in this regard believes that it maintains an ambiguous position in the fund is a no. "This is to say, we both wanted to, but the others do not." Sägesser points to another difference compared to the situation 2010. Then, the flemish nationalist made territorial claims. Today there are none, meaning that no lawsuits with which to negotiate.

After months of negotiations, we considered two possibilities: a Government that is fragile but that is at least able to put forward budgets, or, in the worst case, call new elections. In Belgium there is a time limit for parties to reach an agreement before calling the citizens of new the polls but a new election date could be a solution to undo the knot of political. However, according to the last two surveys published in Belgium, the results of new elections –in which voting is compulsory— could further complicate this conundrum: in Flanders, the extreme right would go up in such a way that the Vlaams Belang would be the first force in the country and would spend from 18 to 27 seats, while the ruling Workers ' Party of Belgium would go up from 12 to 18 members. "New elections will produce a more complex system to feed the parties antistablishment", pointing Dodeigne.

The political blockage has re-opened the debate about a possible institutional reform. However, no trace of the révolution of the frite. Perhaps it is due to the sociological change that this society, according to Sässeger, has lived in the last decade. Or maybe it was referring to the former president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in a recent interview to Le Soir. "I never encounter with belgians who are proud of their country. Belgium is a country that has a lot of qualities, and the belgians are practically the only ones that are unaware."

Updated Date: 05 January 2020, 00:00

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