"If Charles Michel wants the support of the NVA, he will be our puppet." These words, almost humiliating, were uttered by Jan Jambon, former Minister of the Interior NVA (Flemish nationalist party) against his former Prime Minister, Charles Michel, who has resigned since Tuesday. Words that confirm the definitive break between the two main partners of a coalition at the head of Belgium for more than four years. An unbalanced team where the only French-speaking party of Charles Michel, the Right-liberal Reform Movement (MR), rubbed shoulders with three Flemish parties including the NVA, the independentist party of the charismatic burgomaster of Antwerp, Bart De Wever. In 2014, political commentators had attached a rather visionary qualifier to this colorful team: the kamikaze coalition. The facts finally proved them right. On December 9, the NVA decides to scuttle the ship and leaves the government.
A sign of the times, this umpteenth Belgian political crisis is not the direct consequence of community tensions between Flemish and French speakers. It is the result of a confrontation staged around the "pact of Marrakech" on migration. Charles Michel wanted his government to sign it. The NVA, after having participated in the discussions on this text, suddenly decreed that the pact was undrinkable. The party agitated the specter of a migratory invasion on Flanders. A display campaign with racist hints – badly assumed by the party – was the highlight of this operation fake news Flemish nationalists. Theo Francken (NVA), Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, supported the anti-pact demonstration in Marrakech that gathered 5,000 people Sunday in Brussels, including a significant share of right-wing activists.
For Jean Faniel, director of the Center for Sociopolitical Research and Information (Crisp), this government disintegration "Gives the impression that the NVA uses the Marrakesh Pact for electoral purposes, in order to reposition itself in relation to Vlams Belang" (Flemish far-right party). It was in November that the internal conflict in the majority really broke out. A few days after the October communal and provincial elections that saw MR and NVA lose feathers. In Flanders, the Vlams Belang regained votes. In the run-up to the federal and regional elections in May, the NVA is trying to rebuild an "anti-establishment" electoral health by accentuating the extremist trait already traced by Théo Francken, who never stopped anti-migrant outrages during his four years of government involvement.
Read alsoHow the Marrakech pact imploded the Belgian government
A priori, the Prime Minister could see in this government crisis an opportunity. "It could be interesting for Charles Michel to get rid of this image of prime minister who is not one"explains Pascal Delwit political scientist at the Free University of Brussels (ULB). But the break comes a little late. The image of the puppet, Charles Michel trolled since his enthronement. In 2014, the whole opposition scoffed at a French-speaking prime minister suspected of fetching his instructions from Antwerp, in the offices of Bart De Wever. Francophone liberalism devoured by the Flemish populist sauce. The table is nuanced. Henri Goldman, editor-in-chief of the journal Policy, reminds that "On the socio-economic, coalition partners, very marked on the right, got along very well".
In four years, the government has begun to reduce unemployment benefits, raise the statutory retirement age, increase the VAT on electricity. But on some issues, such as the purchase of fighter jets in the United States or climate policy, the friction was real, without Charles Michel can impose. "And the Prime Minister had to accept being implicated by Theo Francken, a member of his executive, adds Pascal Delwit. No prime minister would have accepted that. This proves how much Charles Michel was dependent on the goodwill of the NVA. "
After December 9, Charles Michel thought to continue his policy with external support of the NVA on some texts. The latter raised the stakes by relaunching the community debate. "The line is drawn," then declares the Prime Minister who tries, unsuccessfully, a gamble to save his place. Tuesday, in front of the House of Representatives, he suddenly dyes his project of red and green hoping to rally to his cause socialist and ecologist opponents. "Prime Minister gave the impression of someone lost ready to hang on to any buoy, comments Jean Faniel. In need of majority, Charles Michel went to see the king to resign him. The following ? Either the Michel government manages "current affairs" until the next elections scheduled for May, or early elections will be held within forty days. Meanwhile, the king consults the political parties while the NVA is campaigning.
Cédric Vallet correspondence in Brussels