The federal government De Croo I
After almost 500 days of searching, testing and experimenting with all the colours of the rainbow, the 4-coloured Vivaldi coalition was the ultimate winner and swore an oath in front of the Belgian King at the Royal Palace on 1 October 2020. No less than 7 political parties are involved in the new government coalition, which has a comfortable majority of 87 seats (out of 150).
A new government lead by Alexander De Croo of the Flemish liberal Open VLD may seem surprising at first sight. After all, in the elections of May 2019, the Open VLD was only 7th in terms of number of votes obtained. By bringing forward a Prime Minister, the party does indeed seem to be punching above its weight. However, after three governments with a French-speaking prime minister and four Flemish parties in the federal government that together do not even represent the majority of the Flemish electorate, a Flemish prime minister was unavoidable.
In the context of a serious health crisis and the severe economic downturn, the coalition agreement can be considered ambitious. Significant investments are being made in the economy and in social prosperity and the government is no less ambitious in terms of energy transition and its climate policy.
Despite the sluggish economy and the rising budget deficit, the government announced that it will invest 5.3 billion in new policies, including 1 billion in public investment, 1 billion in temporary measures and 3.3 billion in structural measures.
To finance all this, several options are being explored including a digital tax on internet companies, a fixed minimum tax on multinationals, or some kind of crisis tax which will have to be borne by the so-called ‘strongest’ links, and finally – you guessed it – tougher measures on fiscal fraud.
As you can see, the legendary ‘voluntarism’ that marked the purple-green Verhofstadt I government has made a complete come back. However, while optimism is a moral duty, it is better to err on the side of caution. After all, the government will face many challenges and obstacles until the end of its term in 2023. Let us consider some of the most important ones:
What can go wrong?
- An empty treasury. The COVID-19 crisis is taking its toll both on human lives and on the country’s budget. We are heading towards a significant public deficit. This precarious budget situation will haunt the coalition for the next months and years.
- Challenging compromises. The text of the coalition agreement is often deliberately vague and open to interpretation. At some point, however, vague statements will have to be translated into concrete policies … and asking for comprises across 7 different parties with 4 different ideologies will prove to be a difficult balancing act.
- Vulnerable Flemish flank. The four Flemish parties that have joined the federal government do not represent half of the Flemish voters. This means that the opposition will keep them under close scrutiny and regular crossfire.
Why will it work?
- Sense of responsibility. Despite the undeniable ideological differences, the seven parties have been united by a common sense of responsibility to deal with the current health and economic crisis.
- Fear for elections. A number of (Flemish) parties are afraid of new elections. After some parties’ disastrous election results in 2019, collaborating within this government is a ‘last chance’ to turn the tide and win back some of their voters. Failure is not an option.
- Good cast. Perhaps the most important reason that this multi-coloured coalition will survive despite all its challenges, is the government’s cast. First of all, there is a new generation of new, fresh faces who are ready to disrupt the old-fashioned political style. They indeed wish to distance themselves from the politique politicienne which caused this 500-day political mayhem. Moreover, each party has been given policy responsibilities that are close to their core business. This will only strengthen the will to succeed. Here also failure is not an option.
The road will be long and bumpy, but Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s colourful coalition of the willing is set for success. Vivaldi is moving forward, slowly but surely. Avanti… ma non troppo.
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