These five governments cover domains such as education, economy, mobility, welfare, culture and media, even in absence of a federal government. So can we do without one government? It might seem that way, as the other governments take care of people's everyday concerns. Observers compare Belgium to a plane that has one motor turned off, but can still fly.
Even in foreign policy, a typical federal domain, Belgium gets on fine without a federal government. It has heard compliments for the way it handles the European presidency, thanks to a trained diplomatic corps, a genuine belief in Europe and a caretaker prime minister with time on his hands. Yves Leterme (CD&V), meanwhile, has set some kind of strange record, having been caretaker prime minister in his second term for longer than he had been actual prime minister.
Still, this situation is reminiscent of the early 1980s, when government upon government fell on roughly the same issues that stand in the way now. This bickering made a real budgetary policy nearly impossible, leading to an explosion of state debt that we were paying off well into the 1990s, when the idea of being left out of the euro finally forced us into some budget orthodoxy. Sadly, the phrase "the hole in the budget has appeared by itself, it will disappear by itself too" did not hold true.
Is history repeating itself? Possibly. In countries around us, serious cut-backs are being made. Even Flanders, with its working government, has started to economise. This has already led to protests from cultural, conservation and other organisations, all aimed at the Flemish minister for culture and environment Joke Schauvliege (CD&V). What is happening to Schauvliege now will surely happen to the new federal government, too. Yet no-one knows when there will be one.
Although there is optimism in the formation talks right now, the possibility still exists that new elections will be held without a government ever having been formed. This will not happen before January, though, when the Belgian presidency of the European Union ends. No need for the rest of Europe to see exactly what a muddle we are in.