Vivaldi under steam: marathon meetings to get there, premiership on the table on Sunday

The preformateurs, Conner Rousseau (Vooruit) and Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld), are speeding up the pace: today they just negotiate from 7 am to midnight. An important test is scheduled for tomorrow: the premiership. If the team gets over that hurdle, it can move on to a government. Striking: nobody is bothering you at the moment. Migration literally flew on through the sensitive paper themes.

In the news: The seven parties meet with large delegations.

The details: The motor runs between Open Vld and Forward.

  • The days are very long, for the seven party chairmen of Vivaldi: the two ‘hosts’, preformateurs Egbert Lachaert and Conner Rousseau, have imposed a murderous schedule on Paul Magnette (PS), Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR), Jean-Marc Nollet (Ecolo), Joachim Coens (CD&V) and Meyrem Almaci (Green). Marathon meetings are being held this weekend. A meeting is scheduled for today 7 am began, and will last until midnight, or later.
  • Because although we are officially still in “preformation”, it is now clear that the mental switch has long been made: these seven go together for a coalition. None of the parties is opposed, everyone is now clearly going for this team.
  • “It has clearly changed, perhaps after all the hassle in the Chamber and the unlikely situations with N-VA. The button has been turned. And even that interview with Pieter De Crem (CD&V): it doesn’t do anything. In any case, CD&V is completely unmoved here, not a trace of opposition to be seen“, Says a source at the table.

Inside the cream: Clearly, this team is running for government.

  • “It is striking how smoothly it runs,” said a party chairman. “It sits very good between the two Flemish preformers. After the troubled relationship that Egbert and Conner had, they both turned the switch, that much is clear. And things are also running smoothly between their Sherpas, Inti Gheysels from Vooruit and Caroline Deiteren from Open Vld. That means that the pace can be made, ”says an insider.
  • “It was different before. But by working together, they have get to know each other and understand each other better. Red and blue, that works nowadays ”, according to someone else.
  • The style of the duo, which takes turns, is tight. Interventions are limited in time, everyone may only give their comments for a few minutes, and then repeat briefly in a second round, after a show of hands. “Conner lays the whip on itIt is a bit quieter with Egbert, but it has to move forward, that is clear ”, says a negotiator.
  • The entourages of both preformers would clearly match well: “There is something like a Vivaldi esprit“, Says one person involved.
  • The marathon that both preformers are organizing actually started on Friday, when broad delegations appeared for the first time, alongside the chairmen. Here are a few striking observations at the table:
    • Heavyweights, and yet candidate prime ministers, like Koen Geens (CD&V) and Sophie Wilmès (MR) have not yet appeared at the table. On Friday there was a core, so both were working on it.
    • However, it was Friday about Justice, but Geens’s head of cabinet, Francisca Bostyn, joined CD&V, and reportedly excelled at file knowledge. Member of Parliament Steven Matheï had also come along for CD&V.
    • The Greens sent specialists Stefaan Van Hecke for Justice, and Wouter De Vriendt for Asylum and Migration.
    • At Open Vld came Member of Parliament Tim Vandenput to talk to, but Zelfa Madhloum was also a striking sight at the table.
    • For Vooruit they were MPs Jan Bertels and Meryame Kitir who came to talk.
    • On the French-speaking side, one notable present: Zakia Khattabi. Will Ecolo soon put her forward as minister? Chances are very high, it can be heard. If she took the wallet of Justice, the sweet revenge would be complete: in the spring she missed an appointment at the Constitutional Court, for which her party wanted to nominate her. Then her “lack of legal knowledge” was blamed.
    • No Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès (MR) to see too: it is clear that MR President Georges-Louis Bouchez on the record boasts “that there is a 70 percent chance that she will remain prime minister”, but that he meanwhile allows few people to enter the negotiations that can put him in the shade. Before MR there was the unknown Valentine Delwart.
    • Also striking: Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) walks around permanently during the Vivaldi conversations, unlike the other members of the government. He is clearly firmly involved in the Vivaldi bubble.
  • In terms of content, it must be said that it all proceeds with very little friction. The whole chapter “Asylum and Migration” is almost swallowed without a fight by the greens. Over the past four years, they have shown themselves to be major critics of Swedish policy, which was “too harsh” under Theo Francken (N-VA). But in reality, hardly anything changes.
  • “The greens want especially in tonality changes. They now also understand that no flower power policy should be pursued in Flanders ”, according to a negotiator.
  • Today, a range of matters are still being negotiated, from people with disabilities to the crown jewel: the budget. The latter certainly promises to be an interesting fragment, even if the question is whether much can be said about it in corona times. And perhaps that is useful: leaving it quite open, so that everyone can have their way, and postpone the bill to later.
  • In the meantime, things are improving. Justice and Asylum and Migration were completed yesterday. Such is the famous note, which has already leaked in all kinds of versions, expanded to 200 pages. The main dish, the premiership and all the threads attached to it would be for tomorrow.

The essence: The test of this coalition is on the agenda tomorrow.

  • In principle, tomorrow must be final a real formateur. That is then immediately the man who will also lead the case, as prime minister. An interim solution, such as another two formateurs, was suggested here and there, but as the atmosphere was yesterday and this morning, one should nevertheless tranch, or so was the estimate made among those involved.
  • In the meantime, a lot of ink has already flowed about the premiership itself. In the last straight line a few things are clear, starting on the French-speaking side:
    • The PS is no longer hiding it: they really want to let Paul Magnette run the business. It is also the largest party with a certain mathematical logic that the Sixteen comes to the French-speaking socialists. Simulations published here yesterday show how “strange” all that government becomes if the PS does not get the premiership.
    • The MR has fiercely promoted Sophie Wilmès, but in the end Bouchez does not seem to hold on to “his” figurehead at all. Rather the opposite: here and there you can hear it for him is an ultimate chance to get out of the shadow of his prime minister. And who within the MR is willing to sacrifice Didier Reynders (MR) as European Commissioner? “Technically, we could replace it. Is that what Bouchez wants then? ”, One person concerned asks.
    • But at the same time, the team is heading for the repetition of the same big discussion as last time, when in the end the ultimate compromise was to push Lachaert and Rousseau forward: a firm veto by Bouchez against Magnette then stood in the way of a breakthrough. The question is whether the MR chairman can ever accept a prime minister of the PS at all, but also whether he could ultimately stop it.
    • Everyone holds their breath about this: Bouchez’s negotiation techniques are now notorious. “Bet high, absurdly high, and then land somewhere cheaply. He does that all the time, over the posts ”, you can hear. In particular: the European Commissioner of Reynders, the MR refused to pay for that last time. “Negotiated for my time”, Bouchez argued. Perhaps ultimately, allow Magnette, and then run off with ‘extras’ yourself …
  • A little bit on the Flemish side more nuanced statue:
    • There is no rivalry such as on the French-speaking side: between all Flemish presidents the atmosphere relatively good. Certainly Joachim Coens is a man who is difficult to argue with.
    • But Open Vld has set its sights on the premiership: it is now clear to everyone around the table the Flemish liberals want to go for the “bonus” of the Sixteen, with De Croo as the figurehead.
    • Only that more than likely runs into a veto on the part of CD&V. The Christian Democrats seem to have given up the battle for the Sixteen, even though they are in the pecking order as the “first” Flemish party. After all: they do have the same number of seats, but nevertheless got a lot more votes on May 26, 2019 then Open Vld.
    • More than likely, Coens will remain firm about this: help make another electoral competitor great by giving them the prime minister, that is also particularly difficult on the Flemish side.
    • And strikingly, socialists and greens are in principle not in the running on the Flemish side, however are not at all unspoken in favor of De Croo, as suggested here and there. The name of Geens can indeed be noted among the socialists. “But we don’t have the impression that his own chairman has that ambition”.
  • So it promises to be the big test on Sunday, true possibly also a further part of the puzzle is immediately placed. Because however they try to frame it at Vivaldi, the emphasis for many is now very much on the posts.
  • With great interest, it is examined who will join the negotiations for the other parties: it is also this weekend a little bit of a leader in all workgroups. Today, a lot of people are already passing by: up to eight people per party will join different working groups.

To follow: Next week’s new Security Council does not bode well.

  • Power is addictive. Everyone who walks around Wetstraat knows that. But the longer it becomes clear that this does not only apply to politicians.
  • How the group of “experts” that due to the unforeseen circumstances of the corona crisis may suddenly help outline policy, or at least allowed to do so until now, but now resists tooth and nail because they are in danger of losing that status: it is unseen.
  • In recent months, a group of virologists from the ‘hardline’, headed by Marc Van Ranst, have always left their mark on the public debate first, with messages of fear through the avid media, and then inevitably on policy: politicians dared the pandemic can hardly go against those virologists. Especially with a fearful Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, and a chaotic Belgian Security Council system around it, some got a boulevard.
  • But that turned definitively this summer, after again a whole fear offensive around a second wave, in which all kinds of extra measures were taken, turned out to be a big sof: the number of deaths and hospital admissions hardly moved.
  • Today there is now a quasi-civil war, using the same techniques as in the Wetstraat: filthy leaks, character murders and well-placed attacks the media, against “colleagues” who are together in the advisory body Celeval.
  • After all, in that body that replaces the GEES, advice must be formulated on how to combat the pandemic in us. The arrival of Professor Lieven Annemans, among others, to that body, a critic of the policy in recent months, because of far too strict and damaging to society and the economy, a conscious move by politicians to regain more ‘breathing space’ itself.
  • Apparently much to the frustration of the group around Van Ranst, who are now through their access to the media wants to seize power again.
  • But the net result threatens to become dark news again next week: more measures, and again situations that are close to a lockdown. In exchange, the “bubble of five”, a concept that is not very much followed anymore, would be released.
  • That it the last high mass should become Prime Minister Wilmès, who will then be replaced, does not do it any good: she too will want to say goodbye “forcefully”.

Well noted: Maggie De Block (Open Vld) throws the bat in the chicken coop over the posts of the Flemish liberals.

  • Now that Vivaldi is in the last straight line, everyone looks at each other about who will soon be given a ministerial post, or who can call himself secretary of state.
  • At Open Vld, who else but Maggie De Block will break through the omerta who rules about it: “That they say that straight to my face, if they don’t want me as a minister anymore“, She stated this morning in a breakfast meeting with the VRT.
  • De Block is generally seen as someone who has had her period, and is no longer eligible: she no longer appears in the lists. It is a open secret that Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld), who helped Lachaert enormously in his “pure blue” election campaign that would make Open Vld take the right turn again, is eager to take her place.
  • But De Block cannot be done just like that. In any case, Lachaert will have to look within his party, which is probably entitled to four posts:
    • The Croo is a certainty, Van Quickenborne is definitely among the contenders.
    • Patrick Dewael (Open Vld) is looking forward to an extension of his mandate as President of the House, but does Lachaert not launch new faces?
    • In addition, there should definitely also be going to it balance between men and women to be looked at: it is not without reason that it is the “century of women” among the liberals? Former chairman Gwendolyn Rutten (Open Vld) is not a contender: the team Egbert is not that masochistic, after months of internal rivalry in early 2020.


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