Downfall

Summary

It's decided: the Flemish government will consist of the Christian Democrat CD&V, the socialist SP.A and the nationalist N-VA. But no liberals, even though Open VLD remains in the federal government. This seems normal, as Open VLD was the biggest loser in the regional elections, ending up with just 15% of the vote.

It's decided: the Flemish government will consist of the Christian Democrat CD&V, the socialist SP.A and the nationalist N-VA. But no liberals, even though Open VLD remains in the federal government. This seems normal, as Open VLD was the biggest loser in the regional elections, ending up with just 15% of the vote.

To many people, though (not least the liberals themselves), this is hard to accept, since just two years ago Open VLD's Guy Verhofstadt was still prime minister of this country. What a downfall!

A disappointing election result is one thing. How you deal with it is another. This was illustrated by the socialists in 1999 when they hit their all time low after a series of corruption scandals but still managed to get into government and influence policy because Verhofstadt desperately wanted them in.

Open VLD seems not to have learned from this. After the elections, they did everything wrong. For starters, Karel De Gucht, the outspoken foreign minister, warned that Open VLD would leave the federal government if it was excluded from the Flemish government. His party comrades soon silenced him, fearing that this might actually get tested. Next, Patricia Ceysens, the Flemish economy minister, stated that the nationalist N-VA was bad for Flanders' economy, rekindling the old antagonism between the two parties.

To make matters worse, Verhofstadt himself agreed on a note in which Kris Peeters (CD&V), the present and future minister-president, proposed to scale down the tax relief Open VLD wanted to double. It was a desperate move.

There are a number of reasons why Open VLD was left out. It is difficult to broker a deal with a party thrown into disarray by the electoral result (followed by the resignation of its party president Bart Somers). Formally, Verhofstadt is now in charge, but everyone knows his mind is focused elsewhere (on Europe, to be exact). Open VLD is now commonly described as "a wounded beast", which does not make it the "loyal partner" other parties want. And for Bart De Wever's N-VA (which Open VLD has been sniping at for years), this was pay-back time.

Open VLD now looks to its Brussels section. Not only did it do well at the ballot box, going against the trend, it also manoeuvred itself into the Brussels regional government. The Brussels liberal Sven Gatz is now urging his party to be more modest. It has lost the elections, after all.