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Belgium: Federal Government Formation: day 176

by Elco B Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 01:50:23 PM EST

I'm typing this when still new speculations are coming in  after the declaration of our prime minister (G.Verhofstadt)at 18h30.

The Belgian political situation is complex and very hard to explain. Even the majority of Belgians have no clue what all the fuzz is about.
I'm not a specialist but I tried to understand what's going on, but my feelings now about the whole situation are best described as "ridiculous!")

For an oversight of what happened since the elections of 10 June see the excellent pages on Wikipedia: 2007 Belgian government formation.


This evening at 18h the  king's palace announced that G. Verhofstadt (outgoing premier) accepted an information assignment to find a solution for, what everybody now says, the political crisis.

A half an hour later, Verhofstadt made a declaration for the media he's accepting this assignement to find a solution for the problems the 'care-taker'government cannot handle. After 176 days some decisions have to be made to keep things going on in Belgium.

For me what was striking was the fact that Verhofstadt was called to the king three times: yesterday evening, this morning and this afternoon again.
 This is also a surprise move of the king since almost everybody expected a Walloon liberal (Reynders) to be given that assignment.

So what will happen now? It's everybodies guess.
Seems in Belgium about everything unexpected is possible.

But, what is sure now: the falling apart of the country was never on the negotiation table despite all the holabaloba.

The latest negotiations have shown there's no majority to break up the country and even less now than 6 months ago.  

Belgians are known for constructing complicated compromises.  Somehow a new compromise will be reached, but even in the press here it is impossible to find the details about the negotiations.

So I'm very curious wich way it will go. Any suggestions?

Oh, BTW, one of the headlines in the news here in Flanders was something about some girls (Spice) started a new tour an will maybe come to Belgium.
Yeah, our politicians could use some spice.

Well, in a funny kind of way, the fact that no-one in Belgium feels there is a danger of a breakup sort of contributes to the slow progress.

After all, if there is no danger, where's the urgency?

May as well hang on to beat the Czech record...

More seriously, from the far away point of over here, there doesn't seem to even be much transparency about the actual demands of various parties. Without that, it's hard to know why compromise hasn't been reached...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 02:34:25 PM EST
About urgency: well some decisions have to be made to keep going things on. e.g. appointements on several levels cannot be made by a 'care taker' government: police, army, judicial courts, civil administration and so on. Also budgets on several levels, voted previously in parliament, cannot be 'executed'.

About transparency: as Fleming, I have to surch the Walloon press to find some details. But even then it seems most is hidden behind the mist of the community-differences.

Good possibility we'll beat the Czech-record as what we hear now the care-taker government could be allowed to bring some dossiers in parliament, case by case, to allow some urgent decissions.
That way, some pressure is taken away to allow more time to find compromise about the state reforms.  

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 03:03:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So when does it really become urgent? Is there a point in time were there has to be a government or - say for example - civil servants does not get payed?

You mentioned a caretaker government. Who appoints it, the king? Is it career civil servants or is it some sort of general coalition with very limited powers?

Thanks for keeping us updated. Besides debunking the fuzz last summer, it is very interesting to see how a country works when the political system is in gridlock.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 07:11:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The caretaker government = the outgoing government. I think that is standard in parliamentary systems. We call it a 'demissionary' government in NL.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 07:30:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Had to check it and it is the case in Sweden too. Firm bloc politics has however eliminated the need, after the election it has been pretty clear which government will be formed.

Apparently civil servant governments as caretaker governments has existed in Sweden but not so much in later years.

In Finland it happened as late as 1975:
Keijo Liinamaa - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Keijo Antero Liinamaa (6 April 1929 - 28 June 1980) was a lawyer and caretaker Prime Minister of Finland.

Following the election of 1975, the political parties couldn't agree on terms for a coalition government. President Kekkonen appointed Keijo Liinamaa as Prime Minister of a caretaker government that lasted from June till November 1975. Kekkonen's intervention made possible the formation of a new coalition government under Martti Miettunen in the autumn of 1975.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 07:47:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Caretaker governments in the UK are normally the outgoing government, doing nothing in particular, for a few weeks between the dissolution of the House of Commons and the appointment of the new Prime Minister or the reconstruction of the Ministry if the incumbents won the election.

The only major variation from the normal model was when the Second World War coalition broke up just before the 1945 election. Winston Churchill, as the leader of the largest party in the 1935-1945 Parliament, formed a caretaker government from his own Conservatives and the small groups which had backed them before 1940.

However it is important to note that a caretaker government has all the powers of a normal government. It is just a constitutional convention, not a legally enforceable rule, that the caretakers do not use the full powers of the state.

We have never had a deadlock of the sort Belgium is experiencing. In a majoritarian system there is normally a single party with a clear majority and a recognised leader, so the monarch has a very simple task in identifying the person who is to be Prime Minister.

Even if there is no majority party the conventions seem to be fairly agreed. The government in office can, if it wishes, continue in office until the new House of Commons votes it down.

If the outgoing Prime Minister resigns or is defeated in Parliament, then the leader of the largest opposition party gets the next invitation to form a government. There is a sort of implicit combination of the two roles you get in the Belgian system, of someone investigating the possibilities for a new government and someone trying to form it.

There are some precedents, from the days before universal suffrage and party election of leaders, where the monarch just chose somebody. It seems that in 1894, when the Liberal leader W.E. Gladstone retired, Queen Victoria just appointed the Earl of Rosebery as Prime Minister without bothering to consult the other Liberal leaders to see if they wanted him. This may have contributed to the ineffective nature of the Rosebery Ministry, with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor (and leader of the Commons) not being on speaking terms.

There are even older precedents, from the days of the factional politics of the eighteenth century, when the monarch sometimes did ask an elder statesman to see if he could help form a new Ministry.


by Gary J on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 11:04:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You could have an easy compromise! I think the Walloons should trade in Halle-Vilvoorde in exchange for no further federalisation. Simple enough, I'd think. Remains to be seen if the parties can agree to that, of course...

At the same time I'd propose a coalition of MR, OpenVLD, SPA, CDH, Ecolo, Groen! (77 seats / 2 seat majority). Call it a government of national unity, to frame the opposition as anti-Belgium. Make Reynders PM. Just keep Leterme and the PS out. No idea if the parties could sort it out, especially if you could draw the Christian CDH in, but it could work out if they could.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 06:55:16 PM EST
To start with: Walloons don't want further federalisation.  Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde: again, it's the Walloon parties that are afraid of loosing influence whatever compromise will come out. Every Walloon party will play it hard. Joëlle Milquet from the CDH is called now in Flanders:"Madame non".

Leterme cannot be neglected: he won the elections in a way almost never seen in Belgium. Without him a government is impossible.
But what's going on now IMHO, they are looking for a way to isolate the CD§V-partner, the NVA. They have a separatist agenda and succeed so far to reject the Walloon proposals for a compromise. That way Leterme is taken hostage by the NVA notwithstanding this is estimated less than 10% of the coalition.

A Walloon prime minister is political a non go, really, this is unacceptable for the Flemish(whatever party),so far.

Your proposal of coalition make sense(except of the PM), and in the press simular ideas are already launched. Give it a day or three, I'm sure Verhofstadt will examine this alternatives, and we'll see wich parties will take responsibilities.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 07:31:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To start with: Walloons don't want further federalisation.
That's what I meant. They don't want further federalisation, the Flemish parties do. At the same time there is the struggle about the B-H-V region. The Walloons probably (and justifiably) feel that if they give up one bit, the Flemish will just come back in 4 to 8 years asking for more. But the Walloons can't expect not to give away anything this round, considering the outcome of the elections, and B-H-V is the lesser of the two chips.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 08:03:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, one of the idea's going around is: next regional elections are due to be held in 2009.
Why not hold simultanously federal elections? That way a lot of problems could be solved. With that in mind it might be possible to reach a compromise to form a government to 'prepare' further federalisation and govern on social-economical basis(the agreements on this are made already).

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 08:19:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just bought property in Ukkel. I'd still like to move there while it's Belgium :) On a more serious note though, it seems like the majority is not even considering the break-up as an option. Rather, it is something you read in English press.

Mikhail from SF
by Tsarrio (dj_tsar@yahoo.com) on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 12:15:55 AM EST
here at ET that the reason for the apparent gloating and enthusiasm for a Belgium break-up recurrent in the English press is fed by a neoliberal, anti-EU crowd who'd love to see the federal approach fail and then point fingers, "Told you so! Now look at our superior solution."

Good luck with the property...

by Nomad on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 02:54:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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