“Nil volentibus arduum” – nothing is impossible if you really want it -, with these words (not coincidently sharing the acronym with the name of his party), Bart De Wever claimed his electoral victory last June. 83 days later, it appears that the quote doesn’t apply to the formation of a stable federal government.
Now we aren’t panicking just yet: in 2007 it took Yves Leterme 192 days to form a federal government. An interim-government, that was, just so the most urgent matters could be actually dealt with. So 83 days is really just peanuts. And for those wondering how come a country without a government doesn’t end up in chaos, let me give you a brief introduction to my home country, Belgium.
It’s not really big – 30,528 square kilometres and a population of nearly 11 million people. In the north (Flanders), they speak Dutch*, in the south (Wallonia) they speak French, in the east they speak German and Brussels is a bilingual enclave in the Dutch-speaking part. This may seem a little bit complicated to organize government meetings and such, but really, there is an easy solution for that: just give everyone their own government. And thus there is a Flemish government, a Wallon government, a Brussels government, a Dutch government (though this is fused with the Flemish one), a French government, and a German government. And then a federal government for the whole country, to keep things together. This is no joke: 6 governments we have in this tiny weeny country of mine. It may look like a complicated situation (okay, it is), but the result is that there are enough governing powers left to keep our world turning even in the absence of a federal government.
So what’s up with that federal government? Well, elections were last June, and on the Flemish side NV-A won. This right-wing party basically wants an independent Flanders, i.e. the end of Belgium. On the French side PS was the winner, a left-wing party. Now if you say “win”, it’s not the American type of “win”, where the 2-party system inherently leads to 1 winner and 1 loser. Nono, we have several parties (I believe last June I had some 13 to choose from). Thus, a winner has maybe 20-25% – in one half of the country, since elections are split (also). Therefore, NV-A and PS cannot form a government on their own. Come in SP.A (the Flemish counterpart of PS), CD&V and CDH (the christian democrats), and Groen! and Ecolo (the green parties from either side). 7 political parties, from right wing over center to pretty socialist and left, have to form a government which is capable of sorting the federal finances (in short, taxes flow to the partial governments, leaving the federal government with nothing to actually work with), solving issues with the borders of the capital region (where the number of French speaking people in Flemish communities often largely exceeds the number of Dutch-speaking people), deal with the economic crisis and save A LOT of money while doing so. Oh, and change the constitution, to be able to do all of the above. I understand this can’t be easy, but hey, we’re grown ups, surely we can work something out?
They were optimistic, all 7 of them, before summer. We would have a government by September. It would be a historical government, and all those long-lasting conflicts from before I was born would be resolved. And it must be said – the climate in which negotiations took place was MUCH better than it was 3 years ago.
But 83 days later, negotiations have failed.
There is no viable alternative.
“Je suis désolée, Elio”, Bart De Wever said to the president of the PS, Elio Di Rupo.
Not just you, Bart, not just you.
* Some people insist on calling it Flemish. It is like saying American is a different language from British. Please.
ADDENMDUM 22/9: here’s a nice little video (in English) explaining on the regions and communities. It might help you to understand that… well, it’s too complicated to understand.