again, a very fine guest post by dr. Arf
So, last time I posted, N-VA had won the national elections in Flanders, Vlaams Belang was the biggest loser of them all and is now back to where it belongs : in the margins of the political landscape, rotting from within and all the other traditional parties goth either a big smack upside the head (Open VLD, CD&V) or saw their margins thin out even more, albeit less significantly (SPa, Groen). Meanwhile, in Wallonia, PS won back their lost ground from MR – FDF, while the other parties held their respective ground.
So what did this mean? Those who read the blog and my update, already knew that both winning parties would have to work together to come up with a new government team. However, that N-VA won in the north and PS in the south made one thing very clear : both regions chose a very different political style, therefore illustrating the big difference between the two. N-VA is a right wing political party, while PS, obviously, is left wing. While they dance around the centre of the political spectrum, especially N-VA does so on the fringes with a very ultra liberal economical and social program, which is diametrically opposed to that of the socialist parties on both side of the language border.
N-VA has three immediate problems :
1) The mass of voters that made them the biggest party in Flanders aren’t all ultra liberals, nor are they die hard nationalists. What most voters wanted, was to send a signal to the political south that a) no, they’re not going to budge when it comes to ceding territory around Brussels and b) that they’re sick and tired of the whole B-H-V question being run aground by delaying tactics and (politically) unrealistic demands. Those 28 percent didn’t turn nationalist over night and any N-VA politician thinking otherwise is fooling himself. They were given a mandate to try and realize their party program, though, which some voters may now regret not having read it entirely.
2) N-VA isn’t the biggest party in Belgium, only in Flanders. Percentage wise, PS remains the biggest party in this country, gaining more than 30 percent in Wallonia. While this is still well below the political hegemony of the days of yore, it’s still obvious that they, too, have been given a mandate to realize their political program which is, as we said, diametrically opposed to that of N-VA. Their big score also means they have the right to the prime ministership, but we’ll get to that later.
3) N-VA winning may have been a joyous moment for the party, it also means they will have to compromise in the formation talks in order to come to a government. The question most if not all political commentators have posed before and after the election is : is N-VA ready, willing and able to do so? One can imagine this wouldn’t sit well with all the nationalist hardliners who have been with the party ever since it was still called Volksunie.
N-VA actually has a fourth problem : that of the Wallonian perception. While the Wallonian press was rather cautious (well, for their doing anyway) right after the elections, we’re now well over three months into the new political reality and knives and swords have been whetted and the first mediatic skirmishes have already taken place. “Why?” might you ask? Well, this calls for an overview of these past months…
At first, N-VA’s Bart Dewever and PS’s Elio Di Rupo – who’s chomping at the bit to become PM – agreed that Dewever would clear the path for Di Rupo by holding talks with just about everyone who’s relevant in the political world : party chairmen- and women, unions, employer organizations and other lobbyists. Three weeks in, I almost feared he would invite the janitor of the federal parliament to see what he had to say.
After this round of talks, Dewever needed some time to come to the conclusion that there were ‘convergences’ which would allow to build a governing team with the following parties : N-VA, PS, SPa, Groen, CD&V, CDH and Ecolo. This would mean a ‘mirror’ cabinet, with all parties having their respective sister parties across the language border joining, except for N-VA, which of course has no sister party in Wallonia. However, said Dewever, this would not be easy and plenty of work still had to be done.
Di Rupo was then upgraded to the status of ‘informateur’ for another round of information talks with the respective parties. Flash forward to another couple of weeks later, and Di Rupo virtually says the same as Dewever did. The message between the lines is clear : there still no ground gained, enough to start formation talks. Di Rupo then visits King Albert II, our country’s ever loyal referee, who – pardon my French – is shitting his pants at the prospect of losing his kingdom and appoints Di Rupo to a heretofore non- existing status : that of ‘preformateur’. Needless to say, this caused many hilarity and sarcasm within the world of political commenting, as well as the political opposition. Basic message : Di Rupo is incapable to getting a governing team together.
Unfortunately, this is the case and while at first a before unseen rule of discretion is upheld by all parties involved, cracks eventually start to show when it becomes apparent that N-VA isn’t going to budge over certain points, like the financing law which divides the federal income between the regions. According to Di Rupo, it was agreed that this would not be on the table during this formation, but N-VA claimed that Wallonian demands made it inevitable to keep it off the table.
While it might come as a shock to most Wallonians, it actually makes sense to definitely arrange this financing law, which is so complex that it’s actually costing the federal government money. But the Wallonian politicians fear that it will end the money stream from Flanders which they have been dependent on ever since their heavy industry collapsed that touching this law is the same as strangling them financially. Which is incorrect, but neither the politicians, nor the media down south are prepared to even consider this.
Instead, the preformation talks were blown up again and all of a sudden, Wallonian politicians are starting to talk ‘nationalist’ speak’. Several PS politicians said their constituents should ready themselves for a separation. Where before there didn’t seem to be one, there was now a ‘Plan B’ on their minds : separating from Flanders, taking Brussels along into something called ‘Wallonian Belgium’. Some ‘rattachists’ even would like to see Wallonia and Brussels added to France, which I’m sure Sarkozy would like as much as he likes Roma gypsies.
So, with our Wallonian brethren now chiming in about separation, is this a feasible scenario? Several political commentators seem to think it’s bull. And theoretically, they would be right. There are so many political intricacies making it impossible for either region to secede, like Brussels and its financing and statute. In all likelihood, Brussels would not want to go along with any of the two regions, because it likes being what it is, a sort of unofficial European Washington D.C. Brussels has the most to lose in this scenario, not in the least its status as European Capital.
However, your Dr. ARF doesn’t think in theories, as he’s some sort of amateur history buff and he agrees that in order to see the future, one should often look to the past. Therefore, I say that it could be highly likely that a breakup scenario could happen, because theoretical logic might not even come into play. Case in point : World War I. Up until a few days before it began, there was absolutely nothing that indicated an armed conflict was going to take place. Every party involved still believed diplomacy would prevail. However, a few minor events decided otherwise and millions died because some people didn’t choose to follow the logical course of action. The devil is in the details. You, as Slovenes, know all too well how fast a political disagreement can escalate into armed conflict.
While I’m not saying it will be necessarily so, I just am pointing out that Belgium breaking up – be it through sheer political means or civil war – is definitely a feasible scenario, in spite of all the theoretical naysayers.
Going on four months now, the preformation talks have stalled, Dewever and Di Rupo are trying to rebuild their political trust in each other and we still are nowhere nearer a federal government than we are to a national budget for next year. Social security wise, things are brewing like an underground lava flow about to burst and this Autumn is promising to be littered with strikes and protest marches. Who again said ‘Nil Volentibus Arduum’ after he won the elections?*
*N-VA’s Bart Dewever