De Croo vs Vandenbroucke: which style for Vivaldi, moderate and modest, or offensive and determined?

The file of the nuclear trip resulted in fireworks again this weekend. A tactically placed offer from N-VA to provide a rotating majority was unsurprisingly rejected by the government. But it was the way that stood out. In addition to a determined, but above all businesslike and calm Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld), there was a strikingly offensive Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit), the man who is increasingly determining the profile of this government.

In the news: Vivaldi shows her teeth, through super minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit).

The details: “Who is Bart De Wever in this one?”

  • That sentence echoes. Because it shows some guts to launch such an attack from the Flemish socialists on the opposition leader, the leader of the largest party. Bart De Wever has dominated Flemish politics for more than ten years, but with that bit of rhetoric, Vandenbroucke gave the Antwerp mayor the best of it, much to the delight of his own supporters and even some surprise among his own party leaders: nobody expected it so fiercely.
  • Because the way in which the deputy prime minister dismissed the N-VA chairman, as if De Wever quantité négligeable was, it was nevertheless extremely self-assured, bordering on presumptuous. It shows a self-confidence and militancy at Vooruit that surprises and immediately sets a certain tone to the Vivaldi coalition: they are not going to crawl into a corner.
  • Anyone who would have predicted after the elections of May 28, 2019 that the Flemish socialists will take the lead, could then easily have been declared insane. But look, a year and a half later the sp.a, or nowadays (almost) Forward, effectively number one in the polls, on the Flemish side of the Vivaldi coalition.
  • They owe this success to the strikingly mature role that Conner Rousseau (Vooruit), the new chairman since December 2019, played in the federal negotiations. It is to the credit of the now 28-year-old chairman that the confidence and determination are back: qualities that the Flemish socialists under the leadership of John Crombez completely lacked.
  • But now Frank Vandenbroucke seems to be doing something extra from the government as Deputy Prime Minister. Rousseau took care of the superdepartment of Public Health for him. Even in non-corona times, that’s heavily outstripped Vooruit’s electoral weight, but in this period that power is almost worth gold in the Wetstraat.
  • Every day Vandenbroucke is in charge of tackling the pandemic, the cameras are looking for the socialist every day. And thereby falls the determined, often pedagogical style of the routine. He takes his time to explain, and defends the “hard” approach: a strict line of measures to stem the spread of the virus. That results in haters, but also very loyal fans, especially with Vivaldists.
  • Vandenbroucke was also vehement about the vaccines, in The Seventh Day: he immediately made a bet with the journalists involved that he would succeed. “My political responsibility is that it should work, and if it doesn’t work, shoot me. ”
  • That confident line about the pandemic works particularly well, communicatively: the contrast with the previous government is great. But Vandenbroucke that same communication simply continued, when it was about the nuclear trip and De Wever.
  • “Who is Bart De Wever in this? He’s not in the government, so that is totally unimportant. There is no question of a variable majority, that statement was totally unimportant, which is why we have not responded from my party. That’s a comment from the sidelines. The government has been formed, and it shows solidarity ”, Vandenbroucke closed the door with one blow.

Why this happens: Nuclear energy is indeed a file that Vivaldi divides, the N-VA is pushing on that division.

  • It is no coincidence that De Wever and the N-VA are pushing the file so much. After all, when the N-VA chairman together with PS chairman Paul Magnette was a preformateur this summer, and worked on another coalition, nuclear energy was a foregone conclusion.
  • “In that bubble of five this summer, I proposed keeping those nuclear power plants open. Three seconds later I had an agreement. People are now being dragged into the abyss by those greens, we are going most polluting energy production in Europe, after Poland. And the most expensive. In order to ultimately achieve something? ”, De Wever reminded the VRT on Saturday morning of the political situation.
  • Then PS, Vooruit, CD&V and cdH agreed to keep the nuclear power stations open longer. The liberals, both the MR and Open Vld, had already declared with a loud voice in the previous months that they were on the same line.
  • But under Vivaldi, a coalition of liberals, socialists, greens and CD&V, the course changed. In principle, they will now close, but that will only be definitively decided in November 2021, a political compromise between greens and MR.
  • With its policy statement, that very offensive energy minister Tinne Van der Straeten (Groen) drew attention to the file last week.
  • This was accompanied by the announcement of Engie, the French owner of the power stations, who delicately stated “no longer to invest in long-term maintenance”, which would de facto close the power stations. A round of bluff poker by the French, to force the debate faster: by keeping the nuclear park open longer, Engie will earn millions more euros.
  • It put things on edge, and on Thursday Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) had to intervene in the Chamber to keep everyone on their toes: the coalition agreement was clear.
  • But De Wever breathed new life into the discussion on Saturday by offering a “variable majority”: support from the opposition, to force the case together with a few government parties. That is a construction that, unlike in other political systems, almost rarely occurs in Belgium: a government here keeps its partners tightly in line in the House, otherwise chaos will ensue, and the fall of the cabinet is near.
  • Just about ethical records has been there over the decades an occasional exception, to “release MPs”, but that is also restricted by Vivaldi. After all, CD&V absolutely wants to prevent abortion reforms from being approved, with the support of the left-wing PVDA opposition.

The big picture: Does the red deputy prime minister put the rest of the cabinet in the shade?

  • Not a cat who assumed that even one Vivaldi party would effectively accept De Wever’s offer. But it’s the responses to the N-VA that have been interesting.
  • Prime Minister De Croo did it in the style we are now used to from him: communicating clearly, but above all calm, without seeking the conflict, rather looking for the role of statesman.
  • “This topic is economic too important to enter into any kind of auction. That decision is not new, in the coalition agreement. It is a continuation of the decision of the previous government, in 2015. Our government is taking over from the previous, Swedish government. We’re going to enforce that law, and add two things: if it feasible, and if it is affordableHe stated.
  • The prime minister delicately defended the coalition agreement and thus the possibility of keeping the nuclear power stations open. “But the intention is to do not procrastinate and procrastinate and procrastinate again. However, if there is a problem with security of supply, in November 2021, you can keep open up to two gigawatts longer. ”
  • Behind the scenes, by the way, is now smoked the pipe of peace with Engie, De Tijd confirmed today: the French energy giant has calmed down, and now accepts that they will have to wait until the end of 2021. Logical: a lot of money is at stake.
  • But it was also striking that De Croo did not mention the N-VA and De Wever. That is not a coincidence: on the Sixteen they don’t believe an auction, or constant polemic with the right-wing opposition in Flanders is a winning scenario. That would cloud the relationship with the Flemish government, while the prime minister is just advocating “cooperation” in this medical crisis.
  • And of course Open Vld on the right is much more vulnerable in a permanent conflict between the center-left cabinet and the strong opposition of N-VA and Vlaams Belang: it is mainly those who are under attack, while the left side of the government can triumph.
  • Incidentally, this approach contrasts somewhat with that of the last Open Vld prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt. When he headed his purple and purple-green cabinets, it was with an offensive style, regularly mocking the CD&V opposition was his habit.
  • By putting De Wever away so strongly yesterday, Vandenbroucke has already taken the cake: for the Vivaldi fans on the left it was a pleasure, they finally have a ‘champion’ again, who can take on the opponent. And it is not the blue prime minister, but a red super minister.
  • It is also the externalization of the internal dynamics. After all, in rooms can be heard from several coalition partners “That Vandenbroucke is very present” at its core. Not illogical, given the powers and the track record of the Flemish socialist. The countless kilometers on the counter of Vandenbroucke are offset by the inexperience of fellow vice prime ministers:
    • Vincent Van Peteghem (CD&V) never been a minister.
    • Neither did Petra De Sutter (Green), she was only short member of the European Parliament.
    • Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) also has no government experience whatsoever.
    • Pierre-Yves Dermagne (PS) comes from the Walloon government, but jumped straight to the post of Deputy Federal Prime Minister, without much experience there.
    • Sophie Wilmès (MR) was already prime minister, but is certain no table jumper.
  • “As long as the corona crisis lasts, there is nothing wrong with that in itself, that Vandenbroucke is taking the case so fiercely. After all, it is his file, his competence. And we are pleased that the government is taking firm action. But if he soon as deputy prime minister will weigh assertively on all other matters, like the recovery plans in the first place, then you still get tensions ”, a government source makes the analysis.
  • “We also see that he puts them all in the shade, even De Croo. They will have to learn to live with that“, So it sounds resolute in the meantime at a high source within Vooruit.

And now? The file is not gone.

  • For the time being, the discussion has now been settled: there is a postponement until 2021 and above all, there is an armed peace between Engie and the government. At the same time, it is utopian to think that the French, and their Belgian chairman and lobbyist Johnny Thijs, just calmly wait for their power stations to close.
  • And the file will be back on the table throughout Europe anyway. As early as March 2021 the European Commission judges on the case of gas-fired power stations. They have to be built to replace the nuclear power plants, but that is only possible if they are generously supported with subsidies. And the European Commission has opened an investigation into this. If that support mechanism is abandoned in March, this coalition will have a major problem.
  • Then there is the final choice in November, or possibly in the run-up to a larger budget discussion: politically this is the kind of file that is finally settled on a heavy negotiating night within the government.
  • What is also certain: N-VA will continue to bombard Open Vld about the nuclear power plants. After all, it is a very symbolically charged subject, on which Open Vld chairman Egbert Lachaert had spoken out in the springwhen he campaigned to become chairman of his party. His promise to keep the nuclear power plants open now haunts him. The N-VA will continue to do everything it can to remind him of this.

Remarkable: Brussels is going to farm in Brabant.

  • The green minister of the Environment in Brussels, Alain Maron (Ecolo), has come up with ambitious plans: Brussels will “buy agricultural land in Flemish and Walloon Brabant” in the coming months and years. In this way they want to “preserve biodiversity”, benefit “local agriculture” and at the same time “feed part of the Brussels population”.
  • Maron, who also played a prominent role in the corona crisis by lashing out at the critical Dutch-speaking hospitals in Brussels, announced this today on LN24. “The Brussels Region will make those lands available to farmers, with the aim of building short circuits. The discussions are ongoing, ”said Maron.
  • “The Brussels Region will therefore” feed the population “, with land in Walloon and Flemish Brabant. Will we end up in a planned economy now? This really isn’t the role of the state, is it? Perhaps the region can rather focus on its core tasks, such as work and infrastructure? ”, Says Alexia Bertrand (MR) of the opposition.

To follow: Christmas continues to captivate everyone.

  • Credit where credit is due: it was MR Chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez who was the first to notice that the “should still be possible”To celebrate Christmas in a broader sense than just with the current rules, where you can only have one extra contact per family.
  • But Prime Minister De Croo countered: “Christmas will definitely not be like it used to be this year,” he stated last week. “By Christmas, the coronavirus will still be there and people will not be vaccinated yet. If we think logically, then you know that the Christmas season will be a period where we will still be dangerous to each other. We have to dare to admit that. ”
  • But look, this weekend there was Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden (CD&V), who opened the door again a little bit. “It is my absolute wish, and that of my colleagues, to allow a little more human closeness for Christmas. At the same time, we must take the alarm signals from hospitals very seriously. We have to find a balance, ”she stated in De Zondag.
  • At the same time, it arrived a little later than Prime Minister De Croo closed the door again: “The Christmas period that is coming is very clear. Either we crack a third wave during that period or we make it. I want to crack it. ”
  • The discussion continues to rage. This morning there was CDH chairman Maxime Prévot, who made another plea, just to make a family meal possible at Christmas. To be continued


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