The Flemish Nationalists may have been successful in Sunday’s (other) elections, but it will be a bumpy road to governmenton 29 May 2014
By Dani Cetra
On Sunday’s elections the Flemish nationalists of the New Flemish Alliance (Niew-Vlaamse Alliantie or N-VA) became as expected the largest party in Flanders and in the whole of Belgium. The party surpassed the challenge of 30 percent of the votes it had set for itself and obtained 43 seats (+27) in the Flemish Parliament and 33 seats (+6) at the federal level. However, they will have a difficult road ahead of power, especially to form a federal coalition.
The results at the Flemish level show the rise of the N-VA, the moderate set-back of Christian democrats (CD&V), liberals (Open VLD), and social democrats (SP.a), and the very severe defeat of the far-right and pro-independence Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang). The CD&V, led by the outgoing Minister President Kris Peeters, met the objective of securing around 20% of the votes and will have the final say in the coalition formation process.
In Flanders the most likely scenario is a centre-right coalition between the N-VA and the CD&V. The two parties are in favour of a confederal Belgium and support austerity measures to reach a balanced budget, although there are differences in the details. The liberals could join the coalition too, but they are not necessary to have a majority. In theory the N-VA could be left out of the Flemish government by a coalition of (at least) Christian democrats, liberals and socialists, but this is a highly unlikely scenario given the strong democratic mandate for the N-VA and the disposition of the CD&V to negotiate with them.
At Belgian state level, the N-VA became (as in 2010) the largest party, but the Francophone socialists (Parti Socialiste or PS) and liberals (Mouvement Réformateur or MR) did better than expected, and more generally the outgoing federal government parties did not collapse. In fact, the PS of Elio Di Rupo is the second largest party in the whole of Belgium and the first in Wallonia and Brussels. This results in a complex scenario with different possible federal coalitions. Broadly speaking, there are two main possible federal governments: one led by the N-VA without the PS, and one led by the PS without the N-VA.
Bart De Wever, president of the N-VA, has been designated as informateur by King Filip and will try to form a centre-right Belgian government with (at least) the Flemish Christian democrats, the Flemish liberals, and the Francophone liberals. This scenario will probably satisfy the two Flemish parties, who would like to see the N-VA wear out already, but the Francophone liberals refuse for now to govern with the N-VA, wary that this will make them unpopular in Wallonia.
The second broad scenario is a federal cabinet led by the PS and without the N-VA which could take the form of either a re-edition of the six-party ruling coalition led by Elio Di Rupo or an even wider coalition with the greens.
An issue that lies at heart of the negotiations are the opportunities and constraints related to the formation of congruent coalitions in the Belgian multi-level political setting. To illustrate, Francophone parties want to form a federal coalition first, while the N-VA wants to enter a federal government after a Flemish government is in place. This way it wants to create a unified centre-right Flemish position before talks with Francophones take a start.
A centre-right government with (at least) the N-VA and the CD&V is therefore the most likely scenario in Flanders, but the situation is more complex at Belgian state level. The negotiations on federal cabinet formation are expected to result in the exclusion of either the strongest party in Flanders and in the whole of Belgium (N-VA) or the exclusion of the strongest party in Wallonia and in Brussels (Parti Socialiste). This is bound to create legitimacy problems in the mid- and long- term.
Dani Cetrà is of Aberdeen Research Fellow at the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change and a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. He tweets @DaniCetra.
Image: Dr Les CC BY