November 26, 2020

Belgian kings far-right migraine

“The king is going to need a big box of paracetamol, the strong ones,” Bart De Wever, the mayor of Antwerp and leader of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party, gloated as Belgiums election results rolled in.

The king is certainly in for a major headache. The Belgian head of state, whose role is mostly ceremonial, has to designate someone to form a government and avert a prolonged, PR nightmare of a crisis like the one that kept the country without a government for 589 days back in 2010-2011.

The trouble is, there are no good options — especially for the king.

Start with the N-VAs first-place finish, with 16 perent of the vote. De Wever is a Flemish nationalist who backs independence for the countrys northern Flanders region and is no fan of the royal family and the role the king still plays in Belgian politics.

But thats only half the story. The party in second place, the far-right Vlaams Belang, which took 12 percent of the vote, is even more hostile to the monarchy, and the very idea of Belgium itself.

These results have turned Belgiums already fragile political climate into a full-blown tropical storm.

Then theres the matter of Belgiums unique federal and regional political dance. A look at the regional elections, held the same day, reveals a country split right down the middle.

The clash over immigration policy that caused Prime Minister Charles Michels center-right government — which included the N-VA — to collapse in December cost every coalition party some points at the ballot box.

That much was to be expected. But the election also deepened the countrys divisions, with Flanders turning decisively to the right, and French-speaking Wallonia and Brussels taking the exit ramp to the left.

In Flanders, 25 percent of voters chose the N-VA and another 18.5 percent cast their ballot for Vlaams Belang. In Wallonia, the Communists and the Greens surged, flanking the dominant Socialist Party on the left.

These regional governments will be easy enough to form. But a federal government that reconciles the preferences of voters on both sides seems close to impossible.

King Philippe (L) welcomes Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel for a meeting at the Royal Palace | Eric Lalmand/AFP/ via Getty Images

These results have turned Belgiums already fragile political climate into a full-blown tropical storm. Or, more accurately, two storms — each with its own epicenter.

The French-speaking Socialists and the Flemish N-VA are still firm market leaders in their linguistic region. But both now have extremists breathing down their necks.

Funnily enough, both major parties have taken the same approach toward their junior challengers: friendly and appeasing in front of the cameras, full-on contempt behind the scenes.

There is no sign whatsoever that either the N-VA or the PS would ever form a coalition with their smaller, testosterone-loaded versions. Why run the risk of legitimizing the extremes, if there are more easygoing partners available?

The Flemish nationalists of the N-VA can and will easily find smaller moderate parties with which to form a center-right regional government in Flanders. The PS, meanwhile, will look toward the Greens and perhaps the centrist Christian Democrats to quickly form regional governments in Wallonia and Brussels. In decentralized Belgium, these regional governments control significant budgets and large public domains.

It is on the federal level that no one sees an immediate possible coalition. Neither the Flemish right anRead More – Source




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