Minority government to continue as N-VA switches to opposition


Prime minister Charles Michel is in Morocco today to join Belgium’s name to the Global Compact on Migration, while a whole new federal government comes into play

‘It’s complicated’

In a move that hasn’t been seen in Belgium since the 1970s, the federal government’s largest party, N-VA, has switched to the opposition. Previously sitting in the majority with Open VLD, CD&V and the French-speaking MR, N-VA will now join the other parties in the opposition, creating a ruling minority coalition.

It was the Global Compact on Migration that led to the move, as the parliament last week voted in favour of the pact by an overwhelming majority. N-VA has maintained that the pact could not be approved by a vote in parliament without government approval.

With prime minister Charles Michel (MR) insisting that he would travel to Morocco today to represent Belgium in adopting the United Nations pact, N-VA walked out of the majority coalition. The former Michel I government, known as the Swedish coalition, is now Michel II, the blue/orange coalition.

“I acknowledge the decision of N-VA to step down from the Swedish coalition,” said Michel at a press conference on Saturday night. “I also note that N-VA has left the Council of Ministers. I acknowledge the clear communication from N-VA of its position. I want to thank N-VA for this clarity.”

He went on to thank N-VA for fulfilling five of the federal minister and secretary posts over the last four years, telling VTM on Sunday that “the personal relationships with N-VA ministers are good and I think will remain good”.

‘Marrakesh coalition’

When it came to the Migration Pact, he said, “there was a difference of opinion, and I regret that. We have been able to approve some very good resolutions over the last four years. I believe and appreciate that N-VA will continue to support resolutions from the opposition.”

Michel is in Marrakesh now to sign Belgium up as a supporter of the pact.

Bart De Wever, whose negotiations to form a new city council were interrupted last week by the federal government crisis, called the situation “unfortunate”. De Wever is mayor of Antwerp and the president of N-VA.

“We have always said that will not support a government that supports this pact,” he said at a press conference on Saturday evening. “Charles Michel will take off from Belgium tomorrow as the prime minister of the Swedish coalition, but he will land in Morocco as the prime minister of the Marrakesh coalition. We are, as a party, not against migrants or migration, but we are against migration chaos. We cannot accept this pact.”

Politicians are choosing crisis above compromise

- N-VA president Bart De Wever

The migration pact, he continued, “is not binding, so why not just abstain from signing on to it? What is the problem? We allowed room to accept an abstention, but that was too much to ask. Politicians are choosing crisis above compromise.”

The new minority coalition is going to be “complicated”, according to Ghent University political analyst Carl Devos. “The minority government only has 52 seats but needs 76 for a majority,” he told VRT. “If they get the support of the greens or CDH, that makes it easy. Otherwise, they’re depending on the support of N-VA. And I find it hard to believe that an opposition that was so thoroughly against the policies of recent years will support this new government.”

N-VA’s departure from the ruling coalition also means that replacements need to be found for their posts as federal ministers and secretaries. These include: migration secretary Theo Francken, equal opportunities and poverty secretary Zuhal Demir, home affairs minister Jan Jambon, finance minister Johan Van Overtveldt and defence minister Sander Loones.

Geert Bourgeois, meanwhile, said that, as minister-president of the government of Flanders, he could not officially comment on anything being considered at the federal level. He did emphasise that nothing in the Global Compact on Migration would pose a problem to the Flemish region.

Photo: N-VA president Bart De Wever, flanked by the outgoing N-VA ministers and state secretaries
©Thierry Roge/BELGA