Be careful what you wish for

I have mentioned before that Belgium has managed a record breaking streak of (now) more than 600 days without a government. After the last set of talks collapsed, Flemish Liberal leader, Egbert Lachaert became the 12th person to be given a go and things actually started looking up.

Lachaert had decided to revive the so-called Vivaldi Coalition Francophone and Flemish liberals, socialists and greens and the Flemish Christian-democrats CD&V. This option was proposed previously, and then abandoned because it excludes the Flemish Nationalists of the N-VA who happen to be the largest part in the country. This time around, though, with September 17th and the prospect of another election fast approaching, I’ve been seeing some quite positive noises.

Yesterday, however, COVID-19 put a spanner in the works.

Belgium’s protracted government formation has been dealt an unexpected blow after one of the royal appointees tasked with exploring options for a potential coalition tested positive for Covid-19.

Egbert Lachaert, president of the Flemish liberal Open VLD is set to go into self-isolation for 14 days after he tested positive for the virus on Tuesday, the party announced in a press release.

So Lachaert will still be in self-isolation when the current government’s special powers expire on 17th September, and I don’t see any of the parties showing much willingness to renew them. All is not lost yet, and Lachert is set to continue negotiations via videoconference along with Conner Russeau, the president of the Flemish socialist party. On the other hand, Belgium’s King Philippe and all party presidents will get tested for coronavirus, so we will have to wait and see where things go from here.

And then things get a bit mad with the news that nearly one in four Belgians are in favour of splitting the country and 56% of those questioned believe that it will not be possible to maintain a unified country in the future.

The fundamental problem is that Wallonia tends to vote centre-left and Flanders votes centre-right and is compounded by the fact that none of the francophone parties trust the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA. Splitting the country would address this, but The N-VA has only been around for about 20 years and there is no guarantee that they will be around for much longer. Especially if, as it appears, they are seen as the main cause of the current deadlock. So I wouldn’t assume that this type of deadlock will remain a permanent state of affairs.

And then there’s Brexit. Having seen the mess the UK has made of embarking on an ill-considered constitutional overhaul, I think that Belgium should be really careful about embarking on a similar course.

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