The De Croo government is turning its gaze to the East. After a long period without a decent federal team, it is time to draw up a foreign policy again, and to step out as Belgium. In doing so, the team sets new, striking accents: at least once a year, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) wants to go to China, to strengthen ties with the new superpower, but also to enter into a dialogue with the Chinese about the difficult subjects. For the United States, that other giant, the message is also clear: “We have to go to the west coast, the heart of technology”.
In the news: A new fully-fledged government that can look abroad again.
The details: Since December 2018, with outgoing cabinets and a minority structure, there has been no room for real foreign policy.
- Since the fall of the Michel government, on an international issue (the Marrakesh Pact on migration), there has been no real foreign policy worthy of the name. That was also difficult: a government in current affairs must be cautious, cannot develop its own ‘new policy’.
- In addition, the outbreak of the corona crisis shifted the focus entirely to the interior, plus one critical component: the European political dimension. Suddenly it became extremely important.
- After all, the real recovery plans to avert the gigantic economic crisis have been drawn up there, by the European Commission and the intervention of state leaders such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. The amounts circulating there, and the fire power with which the Commission works, make every Belgian recovery plan disappear into nothing. But it is precisely because Belgium is such an “open” economy that they are so important: if Europe has economic growth again, Belgium will follow automatically.
- Without a government, but with a president of the European Council, Charles Michel (MR), it was the latter who did some of the honors, especially since party colleague Sophie Wilmès (MR) as prime minister did not hinder her party colleague. The result was always a very gray, docile position within the EU. Significant for example: Belgium is in no way involved in the Hansa group of Northern European countries, which have a different voice within the EU.
- If the profile was gray within the EU, it was almost non-existent outside. Even a Congo trip in early 2020 was not of the kind to make a difference in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi: the previous prime minister had no ambition to leave a mark on that. And also with it seat of Belgium in the UN Security Council, yet the result of an enormous diplomatic effort, little has been done so far.
- The new Vivaldi coalition wants to change that now. It is clear that Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld), who has been very active as Minister of Development Cooperation in recent years, wants to make their own mark.
- Of course, Europe remains the most important of all: as a former Finance Minister, De Croo made the the EU approach to the crisis from within in recent months. It remains to be seen where the new prime minister’s maiden voyage will go: logically, De Croo will first go to Berlin or Paris for a meeting with one of the two heavyweights in Europe.
- Although the question is whether this is really necessary: the EU meetings are so intensive that they are introduced quickly. Thursday, just after his policy statement, De Croo made his entrance at the European summit with his colleagues, the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors of the EU.
- In addition, Angela Merkel came to spontaneously say “hello” to the Belgian prime minister in advance. “I heard from my husband that you wrote a book about feminism. Interesting: is it available in English, I would like to read it? ”, She addressed De Croo, referring to” The Age of Women “.
- Incidentally, the EU policy is of this Vivaldi government decidedly pro-European. That is also a bit of a break in style with the previous government, where the N-VA nevertheless adopted a more Euro-critical stance, and also followed the ‘hard’ line with the then Minister of Finance Johan Van Overtveldt (N-VA). Just like Germany at the time, the N-VA did not want to know about so-called “Eurobonds”, common European debt. But Germany turned the cart around, and De Croo, as Minister of Finance, fully embraced those eurobonds.
Interesting to note: How do we stand now with regard to China and the US, the two superpowers?
- One thing is clear: after two years of lack, this government wants to reclaim a place for Belgium on the international stage. In addition, international relations have changed enormously in the past two years: as the US slipped under Donald Trump towards isolationism, and completely irrational foreign policy, China took maximum advantage of the pandemic of which it itself is at the origin.
- The Chinese economy contracted 6.8 percent in the first quarter of this year, but then in the second quarter the economy rebounded again, with 3.2 percent growth. Those are numbers that the rest of the world, both Europe and the US, can only dream of. China seems like that on the way to push through unstoppably to the number 1 position in the world.
- At the same time, the Chinese are increasingly positioning themselves as a superpower: the endless investments in infrastructure around the world put a stamp. Even the port of Antwerp has the “Belt & Road” program of the Chinese through and through.
- At the same time, it should be noted that “thanks to” technological development, the Chinese dictatorship is now able to act more repressively and decisively against any form of dissent. The fate of the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority in the country, is meanwhile inciting revenge, with whole sections of that population in camps close to hell on Earth.
- In short, reason enough to no longer ignore China, but to develop a genuine Beijing policy. Prime Minister De Croo wants to do that too: it is a firm intention to do a China trip once a year, in order to strengthen ties, economically, but also to enter into a dialogue with the Chinese leadership, as can be heard in circles around the prime minister. Human rights will of course also be a theme here. But also the technological development of China, where things are going very fast.
- Incidentally, the prime minister also wants to open that window on the world to the US. Because “not only the East Coast is important there, especially the West Coast“, That’s how it sounds on the Sixteen. After all, there, on the west coast, is Silicon Valley, the heart of the digital revolution.
- A lot of things come together for De Croo: as Minister of Digital Agenda in the previous government, this numerical change is of course his hobbyhorse. But the prime minister knows the US like the back of his hand: He studied for two years at Northwestern University in Illinois, where he obtained an MBA from Kellogg, the renowned business school.
- But the signal is too that the US is more than just Washington DC. Until further notice, this is where Donald Trump resides, with whom few European state leaders still want to be photographed. Only, in addition to that politics, there are the mastodons such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, with which a Belgian prime minister can also directly enter into a dialogue: De Croo certainly wants to visit that West Coast too, if he goes to the US.
In the margin: Foreign Affairs is bracing for another five years of MR.
- With the arrival of the former prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, after Didier Reynders (MR) and Philippe Goffin (MR), another French-speaking liberal emerges as the big boss of Belgian diplomacy. From 2011 to 2024 the department has therefore been continuously in the hands of the MR.
- This is of course fantastic news for diplomats with a blue signature: the dominance continues. For the rest it is less pleasant. Especially in CD&V circles the frustration about this is increasing. It is no coincidence that the Christian Democrats were somewhat calmed in 2019, when the then Deputy Prime Minister Koen Geens (CD&V) was suddenly taxed in current affairs for “Europe”, which was removed from Foreign Affairs: the careers of some Christian Democrats had to get a boost internally.
- But now it lands again at the MR. “Actually, nobody else wanted it, not even CD&V“, Is the dry conclusion of one of the negotiators.
- An appointment that is now being kept an eye on: the new boss of the FPS. After all, Peter Moors was appointed in 2019, from the cabinet of Deputy Prime Minister De Croo, in current cases. But Moors is now again head of cabinet, with now Prime Minister De Croo. So wait and see what color the new boss of the FPS will have.
To remember for De Croo: The main country is inland.
- It was a political slogan of dark blue politician Ward Beysen at the time, who drew it to voters in 1991. But it is a witticism which applies today for De Croo I..
- After all: it is all hands on deck for the time being, around a new upsurge of corona infections in Belgium and actually throughout Europe. So there will be a top meeting today to see how things are going to be tackled, and what the answers are of the new government.
- The fact that Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) already communicated a bit about this during the weekend (“possibly a reduction of the bubble to three”) can be seen as a beginner mistake: the intention is that from now on communication is done unambiguously and at one time.
- After all, the figures are really bad: the number of infections climbs to more than 3,000 in one day. In addition, nearly 900 beds are now occupied by corona patients, a serious increase. And nearly 200 are in intensive care: the sign that the virus can still be extremely deadly. There is no question of saturation in hospitals: there is room for 8,000 patients and 2,000 in intensive care units.
- Striking: it is the category of People in their twenties who are most infected at the moment. However, there are fears that they will re-infect more vulnerable, older groups.
- Certainly Brussels is a hotbed at the moment: there are more than 500 infections per day. So there may be measures specific to the capital.
- By the way, who yesterday (again) put on a political number: Christoph D’Haese, the N-VA mayor of Aalst, who stated that “he no longer wanted to include patients from Brussels in the Aalst hospitals”. He received a mountain of criticism with this not exactly generous attitude. Plus, the question is whether a mayor / sheriff has authority over hospital admissions in his town or yard.
- There was already one yesterday first corona consultation led by the prime minister, with the prime minister of the federal states, who stopped by on the Sixteen. Today they come together again.
The political essence meanwhile: At the start, Vivaldi threatens to be overshadowed by the polemic surrounding the personnel policy of its chairmen.
- The Rue de la Loi cemetery is full of indispensable politicians. Especially in times of government casting, when careers are made or cracked, that street turns into a real one boulevard of broken dreams.
- Not illogical: the nomination process is preceded by quite a few brother, sister and father murders. After all, your worst enemy is almost always in your own party. Perhaps that explained the lengthy, sincere applause after the speech by Kristof Calvo (Groen) in the House for the policy statement: if there is one emotion that all MPs can recognize, it is the pain of internal treason. So it was, in a sense, also the shared grief of such a sad fate: long-lasting friendship is a pure rarity in politics.
- In addition, there are quite a few chairmen of Vivaldi apparently made a lot of promises, much more than there were posts to be distributed. And often it was communicated in a not exactly elegant way.
- Only Meanwhile, the aftermath of that government formation is beginning to overshadow the start of De Croo I.: the news about the struggles at Groen and the internal uprising at MR has been dominating the political news for days now. Annoying, if it should actually be about the new team.
To note: Nathalie Muylle (CD&V) is now opening a new front with the Flemish Christian Democrats.
- In a particularly candid interview this morning on Radio 1, former Minister of Economy and Employment Nathalie Muylle (CD&V) vented her heart. Muylle is a file eater among the Christian Democrats, and won praise from friend and foe in her year in government. She was pushed by many in the party, in order to stay in the government. And beyond that, heavyweights from other parties also hoped to be able to continue with the West Flemish, in the government team.
- But CD&V chairman Joachim Coens ultimately chose to send others into the field. The way it went does not look very nice. “I went on stage, and just before I left I received a text message from a journalist asking if I could confirm the name of Annelies (Verlinden, the new Minister of the Interior)”Says Muylle. “I took that stage, those were the most difficult ten minutes of my political career. (…) People who know me will have heard that my voice skipped a little. ”
- Joachim sat on the podium, he didn’t talk to me beforehand. Of course there was a lot of disappointment, a lot of questions. A lot of people wanted me to continue. But I understand, I understand that you want innovation, that you want regional distribution. So you also have to make a decision, if I were CEO of the company CD&V, I would have done it too, ”says Muylle.
- “But maybe I would have spoken to those involved beforehand, humanly speaking. I think it is not that easy to do bad news interviews, I have already done it in my career. He also apologized for that. ”
- With Muylle’s testimony comes an extra stain on Vivaldi’s already smeared coat of arms, when it comes to dealing with one’s own political personnel in a respectful, human way. Green and the MR fired the main bird before.
- Not everyone within CD&V thanked Muylle this morning, that she is now dragging the Christian Democrats into such a negative image.
Meanwhile at the MR: A dramatic day with a predictable outcome.
- “It’s his last chance. He knows that, he will grab it too. ” It couldn’t be more humiliating for a party chairman to hear such words about himself on the radio. But Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR) is being shaved for the time being, and then you should sit as still as possible. It was Jean-Luc Crucke (MR), Walloon minister, who came to RTBF this morning to explain how to restrict one’s own chairman from now on.
- “It is a council of ten wise men who will assist and assist the chairman. Those are members of the squad. With a new approach. One man alone cannot decide without consultation. He will have to check things out in advance ”, said Crucke.
- That receivership, a council of guardians above Bouchez, after a whole day of crisis, the French-speaking liberals are in crisis. Bouchez’s fate had been dangling by a thread all weekend. After all, he had gone too far, with the appointment of Mathieu Michel (MR) as State Secretary, and the dismissal of Walloon minister Valérie De Beu (MR), who had to make way for Denis Ducarme (MR). The latter was canceled because the Walloon decree provides for at least one third of women in government.
- The bucket overflowed, and Monday, at the hour-long party desk, Bouchez already had to go through the dust very hard: he also apologized several times for his own party leadership. Meanwhile, the image of a party in crisis lingered in Wetstraat.
- One conclusion emerged: the French-speaking liberals are a divided group, whereby Bouchez’s opponents, and that was just about everyone by now, also failed to unite around one rival candidate. Conclusion: Bouchez had to stay on, there was no alternative.
- At another hour-long meeting last night, during which all MR MPs came to discuss the fate of their chairman, eventually a dragon of compromise emerged: as many as ten people from the top of the MR will from now on be allowed to have their say about Bouchez’s appointment policy.
- How things should continue in practice is the question: no one who saw Bouchez busy in recent months, believes that the flamboyant chairman can really be tamed. But the humiliation for the man from Mons remains at the same time great: he comes deeply damaged from this entire episode. And his party, the MR, once again emerges as a deeply divided party.
- One more man, incidentally, was negative: Mathieu Michel (MR) left his car unabashedly just in front of MR headquarters, in a place that is completely unsuitable for use as a parking lot. Not a good advertisement for the French-speaking liberals, or the government project of which Michel is a member.
Also to follow: Green remains deeply divided.
- It was an operation that was necessary, after a weekend full of commotion, and communication space that was largely filled by the Calvo camp: the chairman of Groen came out.
- Meyrem Almaci (Green) defied the press on Monday after her party office, to explain for the first time the selection process for green ministers. That ended in a non-selection for Kristof Calvo, the green fraction leader and negotiator, much to the disbelief of the person concerned, and the parliamentary party.
- Choreography is important in politics: the Greens wanted to show themselves as “united”, so all MPs and ministers were brought together to take a seat behind Almaci, who would then make a statement and not answer questions.
- But there was something wrong with that. First: an image of unity can only be set strongly, if everyone is actually there. But Calvo himself was not there: he is currently blowing out. And worse: heavyweights like Wouter De Vriendt (Groen) and Jessika Soors (Groen) from the parliamentary fraction, but just as well Björn Rzoska (Groen) from the Flemish fraction, were not visible in the background that Groen wanted to build up so carefully, as a group. people who literally and figuratively ‘stand behind the chairman’.
- Moreover, Almaci loved does not adhere to its own intention of merely making a statement: she went into full conversation with To the point, and got himself stuck there yet again. Because why did a party like Groen, which considers transparency so important, not give the voting percentages? Or why did she not explain the procedure except “that it had followed the rules, as they know internally”.
- But perhaps the most difficult of all: the reconciliation between Calvo and Almaci, which seems necessary to continue with the party, has still not taken place.
- “It is on a human level did not turn out as we would have liked. An important point of attention is the way in which candidates are informed, especially if the timing is very short. The party board therefore wants to evaluate the decision-making process for the appointment of the ministers ”, Almaci said soothingly.
- “I can very well understand Kristof’s deep disappointment. There were two posts, there were many suitable candidates. I can only repeat that as a human being Kristof very much and that he is a pedigree politician which will be of great use to the party. ”
- Almaci tried to shift the focus to the “ministers, who now have to implement the new coalition agreement”. “Only by working together can we meet these challenges,” she stated. The question is whether that is possible for Groen, if they are not first appeased internally. De Vriendt’s answer, op To the point, whether he still supported the party chairman, was telling: “I have to go to work now, in Parliament”.
- Incidentally, that image of unity was also not fully achieved in the accompanying press release. Originally it should say that “everyone will support the chairman”, but painfully enough, that passage was deleted after opposition.
To give: Some more blue employee news.
- In the Senate, Open Vld still had a seat to fill: the party had taken the highest post in the dance of portfolios, but also the lowest, the presidency of the Senate. Not exactly the most interesting political post: hardly anything is happening in that hemisphere, it has now also been “abolished” three times and has practically become the home of Belgian politics. The most interesting thing about the job is perhaps the legendary wine cellar owned by the Senate.
- Moreover, there were not too many candidates: after all, Open Vld had to choose from one of its Senators. So it has become Stephanie D’Hose (Open Vld), an old comrade in arms of chairman Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld). The Ghent politician has been a good connection for the Merelbekenaar for years.
- The new government wants to prepare a state reform, but in the chapter “political renewal” there is also room for citizens’ initiatives, and they want to look again at the Senate. D’Hose is now going to support this. The main ambition? Save.
- “A more efficient Belgium starts with an efficient Senate. So I will immediately get to work by examining the effect and to outline a reform process, of course with respect for the valuable role played by the current staff of the Senate ”, she told De Standaard.