Political turmoil in Belgium
If you were planning on launching a public affairs or communications campaign in Belgium this week, you may want to hold off. Recently, the mainstream Belgian media landscape has been holding its breath over the political impasse and the survival of the federal government. What the Belgians earlier this week still described as a “crisette” (a negligible crisis) quickly evolved into a real political crisis.
Yesterday, the potential fall of the federal government was on the front page of every newspaper in the country, now that Flemish nationalist party and largest coalition partner N-VA does not want to sign the UN Migration Pact.
N-VA president Bart De Wever affirmed on Monday that his party does not support a government that goes to Marrakech, Morocco, to support the UN Migration Pact. Prime Minister Charles Michel of the French-speaking liberal party MR responded that even without the support of N-VA, he will sign the Migration Pact in Marrakech next Monday. The government, therefore, searched for and found an alternate majority in parliament with left-winged opposition parties to support and sign the UN Migration Pact.
Even though the Prime Minister got parliamentary approval on the UN Migration Pact yesterday afternoon, questions have been raised regarding whether the head of the Government is constitutionally able to represent the official parliament stance in Marrakech where the PM is expected to sign the pact. In any case, the N-VA still holds firm that they will not support a government that signs the pact in Marrakech or in New York at the UN headquarters on 19 December. With today’s headlines seem to conclude that ‘this battle has been fought but the war is not over yet’ it seems the political turmoil is set to continue over the coming days and weeks.
N-VA under pressure
Coinciding with their reluctance to sign the migration pact, the N-VA launched a social media campaign about the pact earlier this week. Many viewed the social media campaign as extreme right. Although the N-VA quickly stated the campaign’s narrative was ‘misunderstood’, many policymakers from inside and outside the party have denounced the campaign and its tone, further isolating N-VA, the largest Flemish-speaking political party, from its coalition partners.
Needless to say, the N-VA is under intense pressure from different political angles and stakeholders. Employer organisations are already said to be pressuring the N-VA not to pull the plug on the government as this would be disastrous for businesses in Belgium.
What does this mean for businesses in Belgium
If the government falls, voters would have to go to the polling stations for a third time in a 7-month window, with voting being obligatory in Belgium. With the country just having held local elections in October and regular federal elections being scheduled in May 2019 (coinciding with the European elections), such additional federal elections will not be in favour of the current centre-right coalition, which had been regarded by many interest groups as a beneficial partner for advancing an economic agenda.
Even if the government stands, it is still clear that the power-balance within the government has shifted and that the proper functioning of the government will be more difficult. With the political parties already ramping up into election-mode for May 2019, it is safe to say that this new power-balance and ‘lack of trust’ between the coalition partners will make it more difficult to implement public affairs objectives.
Whatever the outcome, this political turmoil will likely impact businesses’ ongoing policy work in Belgium, as political work within ministerial cabinets will likely be reduced for the next months and focused on just a few key policy trophies of the different political parties. As a result, businesses with activities in Belgium will need to keep an eye on these developments and what they mean for their public affairs agenda.
It is uncertain how this political crisis will evolve, but what is certain is that it will be ‘rough going’ until the federal elections of May next year.
Michael Cloots is Director at FTI Consulting in Brussels.
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