The federal government De Croo is planting the seeds to be involved in more than just crisis response. Because of course Vivaldi dreams of more than just extinguishing the corona fire. Remarkable: Open Vld publicly reaches out to N-VA. Behind the scenes you can hear something completely different: “N-VA lives in the past”, that’s how it sounds at the absolute top. At N-VA, a bitter feeling of betrayal and deceit predominates in relation to the Flemish liberals. That does not bode well for the Flemish government, which also indirectly impacts the federal government.
In the news: First of all, corona, which still dominates everything. Do not expect major maneuvers in that area. The whole current mindset of the government summit consists of keeping expectations as low as possible, no longer organizing a (media) circus about possible relaxation, and more than likely completing the journey with these measures until the end of the year.
The details: It is dancing on a tightrope:
- There is an overwhelming presence of experts in the media, who keep insisting on the medical urgency. The economic considerations come second in this respect, the social and societal impact of the measures, which lead to isolation and great psychosocial damage, are much less frequent in the debate.
- In the federal government the line drawn pretty tight by Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit). He, meanwhile, is the personification of a “strict” approach, which goes quite far.
- This means that the other government partners, in the first place the liberals, have to go along with that hard line. Where Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) promised in his government statement not to organize a second lockdown, we are fully committed to that. But Georges-Louis Bouchez’s MR in particular must “undergo” the measures: a suggestion by the chairman to be able to celebrate Christmas with a few people, and thus provide for a relaxation, was met with a lot of indignant reactions, as if the French-speaking liberal were half a criminal.
- The N-VA makes a different analysis behind closed doors: the costs and benefits of taking so fierce measures, and especially to ultimately protect a generation of over-80s, still have to be objectively weighed?
- This is reflected in the attitude of the Flemish government, which is systematically more inclined to apply the brakes to stricter measures. It is also noted from the federal government within N-VA the tension plane is not minus: Flemish Prime Minister Jan Jambon (N-VA) is increasingly looking for consensus, while N-VA minister Ben Weyts is watching this as a watchdog, advocating and outlining a different course.
- Anyway, even in the federal government at the moment “no reason to be proud of the measures, or to wave it like a flag ”. That’s one of the lessons from the US elections: While Joe Biden was always waving his mask and had “science” on his side, many US voters explicitly rejected that signal.
- Much appreciated in the meantime in the Wetstraat: the German media campaign on COVID, where people try to convince people to stay at home with the necessary humor. “The heroes of the war of 2020? Those who stayed on their sofas. ” “We should have thought of that,” said a federal minister.
The big picture: Vivaldi, a long marriage?
- The honeymoon is still in full swing for Vivaldi. The wheels that would already fly off (Zakia Khattabi (Ecolo) who proposed a new CO2 tax, for example) are covered with the mantle of love by coalition partners, while the press hardly seemed interested in that kind of internal tension.
- This weekend there was a series of interviews with Vivaldi leaders in the newspapers, all of which were read with great pleasure at the Sixteen: “It shows a certain atmosphere, but above all the strength of this team in terms of width. There really are a number of top people“, So can be heard full of praise in circles around the prime minister.
- In addition, explicitly stated on the Sixteen:
- The PS Deputy Prime Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne in De Tijd, who was very fierce, and hopes “one day to be able to reverse the transfers”, whereby Wallonia would therefore pay for Flanders, including social security. The image of a PS full of self-confidence, ready to make its mark after the crisis and with the recovery, was set. But also that of a constructive partner, that quite innovative thinks about the whole.
- Green Deputy Prime Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), who gave a refreshing voice in De Standaard, with substantial investments for the NMBS and, above all, a steep ambition: a train should stop every half hour in every Belgian station. “This is necessary if we want to achieve our climate ambitions. We must reduce our CO2 emissions by 55 percent by 2030. The train is a crucial pivot and only an ambitious offer will convince people to exchange the car for the railway. ”
- The rising star of CD&V, Annelies Verlinden, Minister of the Interior, who delivered a message such as De Croo himself has repeated endlessly: “Within the government everyone realizes that we with endless squabbling and spinning will achieve nothing. And I believe that if we put in 300 percent, we can make a difference. ”
- Gilkinet then shot through on Sunday at RTL. Not unexpectedly, the Greens position themselves as Vivaldi’s greatest cheerleaders: for them it was the only coalition they could get to power with. But the Ecolo Deputy Prime Minister actually stated on the French-language channel “that he sees this coalition continue until 2030“, That is to say, a full term after this legislature.
- “That is after a month and a half of federal government a little too early to explain“, As you can hear while laughing at the top of Vivaldi. With the liberals in particular, people would rather temper than talk triumphalistically about no less than two legislatures of the same recipe. “Let’s tackle some serious issues first.”
- While the perception of this government in French-speaking Belgium, where a large political majority supports the federal project, is particularly positive, it is fundamentally different in Flanders, despite a very favorable press, but with lack of support from the largest political formations.
- Most telling in that respect: the “outstretched hand” of Open Vld chairman Egbert Lachaert to the N-VA. In an interview with De Zondag, the liberal chairman actually stated that he would like to have “a coffee” with his N-VA colleague, Bart De Wever. Or if necessary go for a walk in the park. That gesture seems mostly for internal liberal use: Lachaert was elected as chairman on a dark blue platform, far away from any purple-green reference. But then he did create a completely opposite coalition.
- Because although Lachaert publicly reaches out to the N-VA, the analysis behind the scenes is different at the top of Open Vld. There they talk about their Flemish coalition partner as “a party that lives in the past, clinging sourly to a purple-yellow scenario that was impossible, and in doing so continues to spread “lies” “, it sounds. They just don’t want open war at all.
Why this happens: The Flemish liberals have no interest whatsoever in further tensions between the federal and Flemish governments.
- The contrast could hardly be greater last weekend: while the federal Excellencies can turn out, a feeling of malaise predominates in the Flemish team.
- For example, the federal team pays out premiums for hospital staff, while at the Flemish level the premiums for the healthcare sector are not yet available. At the same time, the left-wing opposition used a subsidy of almost a million to a media group this weekend to shoot hard at that Flemish government: is there money for that?
- It would make sense schadenfreude lead in the federal team, gloating at the fact that on the Martelarenplein things cannot be controlled. The other fail as a measure of their own success: a classic in politics.
- But that analysis is explicitly not made on the Sixteen: “It is not at all in our interest that the Flemish would not run: that only provides us with derived tension. It is only when we can cooperate constructively with Jambon that we also score ”, you can hear there. “With gloating, if there is one, we don’t buy anything.”
- Hence the “rapprochement” with the N-VA: Open Vld would like to normalize relations with the Flemish nationalists over time. But the question remains whether that is possible at all, after everything that has happened this summer.
Noted: De Wever mentions the place and date of “the betrayal”.
- This weekend Bart De Wever was re-elected as chairman-for-the-life of N-VA. The score of 96.8 percent, with 19,916 valid votes cast, was an all-time record: the Stalinist tradition of the party and its leadership seems thus fully reaffirmed.
- More interesting than the score was the message. De Wever again showed himself to be competitive, both to the left (Vivaldi) and to the right (Vlaams Belang), in a conversation with VTM Nieuws.
- He clearly does not change the course of the party of Tom Van Greeks (Vlaams Belang): “What disappoints me very much is that there is no cleaning up of all those extremist elements. That just keeps on coming. That people don’t put things in order. If Vlaams Belang wants to mean something constructively in the future of Flanders, the party must also be constructive in-house and towards potential partners. But I don’t see any of that. In that area it is the same as before and that party remains a frigid of lost votes. That’s a shame actually. ”
- Was more striking the very precise place and time of “the betrayal of Open Vld”, as is the case with N-VA about Vivaldi. This coalition is still seen by De Wever as the ultimate breach of the word by the top of the Flemish liberals.
- On May 27, shortly after his election as Open Vld chairman, Egbert Lachaert visited the N-VA chairman at his own request. At that time, the new chairman did a tour of all party leaders, to get to know each other. But strikingly enough, he explicitly also included then Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo at N-VA, to the surprise of De Wever.
- “At my office, Lachaert gave the message very clearly: we are going for purple-yellow, as the seventh party, we will not supply the prime minister, you can count on us“De Wever literally quotes his colleague. “The fact that De Croo was there, as a silent but telling witness, gave the case even more ampleur,” according to N-VA. Already in the autumn of 2019, when Lachaert and De Croo absolutely wanted to avoid purple-green under then chairman Gwendolyn Rutten (Open Vld), there were intensive contacts with the N-VA chairman.
- All this explains for the N-VA chairman why he subsequently, in the period that he tried to make purple-yellow together with Paul Magnette (PS) as a preformateur, so firmly assumed a willing Open Vld. The fact that the liberals eventually went to the greens, and thus formed a Vivaldi coalition, has now been extensively described, but that conscious meeting at N-VA headquarters is not.
- That the meeting took place, and that those words were spoken, is not denied at Open Vld. “But that lecture that we do afterwards turned our cart to go for the prime minister, and in doing so would have committed “treason”, that are blatant lies “, according to Open Vld.
- Whatever the case, the establishment of the federal coalition continues, not surprisingly, to resonate. The question is which one lasting impact this causes especially on the Flemish political landscape.
Also striking: The PS throws a stone in the pool of the number of cabinet members.
- It remains a particularly pressing question in times of crisis: Who the hell in a small SME with 30 to 60 employees has a budget for their own personal driver and a cook? But old customs have become entrenched in the Rue de la Loi, and so all the Excellencies of the Federal Government hold to that privilege and to the high number of personal employees around a minister.
- The news that came from Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld), for example, that he had taken on a West Flemish caterer, Philippe Mottrie, as a private chef, was therefore not received with much enthusiasm last weekend. “Great idea for the recovery and for Christmas: every family a private chef. That the government never thought of that before“Tweeted political analyst Rik Van Cauwelaert.
- Now PS Deputy Prime Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne is making his own, highly original, contribution to the debate: he announced this weekend of his more than 60 jobs he can and may fill, only about 40 to use. A spectacular, self-imposed saving.
- The fact that there are such large cabinets is partly due to the insistence of the Greens, who explicitly wanted enough people to sit in their offices of the deputy prime ministers, “this time around. no longer to be let in the big files“.
To follow: Violence against law enforcement in Brussels.
- Particularly harsh images of violence against police officers in Ixelles, against agents conducting a COVID check, were seized by the VSOA police union to react strongly. The union announced a “fine strike”, during which they would not issue any more PVs.
- The fierce stance of the union, which systematically releases every incident of which they have images, embarrasses the government. After all: this problem is not new. And predecessors in the departments of the Interior, especially Pieter De Crem (CD&V), promised zero tolerance.
- Now the file is in the bin of successor Annelies Verlinden (CD&V), but surprisingly also Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) who, as Minister of Justice, used his right of injunction to ask the public prosecutor’s office to conduct an investigation.
- Politically a risk: because every politician who takes over this dossier threatens to suffer if the problem is not resolved.
- And unfortunately, in a Belgian politically complicated context, with a local Brussels policy that is sometimes completely different from federal perspectives, that may well become reality.
- The pressure from the MR in particular is now considerable. President Georges-Louis Bouchez has profiled himself on this file several times, and demands full support for law enforcement.