It probably did not escape anyone’s attention that the federal government’s formation was once again atypical. Bringing around the table parties that could muster a sufficient number of seats in Parliament was extremely complicated. As this was the case, we were once again able to witness a series of twists and turns that regularly left spectators in a state of befuddlement.
The result of these negotiations is a government with many particularities: it does not have a majority on the Flemish side, seven parties of different ideological convictions have to collaborate and the two parties with the largest number of seats in parliament are excluded. To defend one’s interests with the new government, it will therefore be of the utmost importance to understand how this government operates and to follow its likely upheavals closely.
First and foremost, this government puts seven parties around the table which is unprecedented. One of the challenges this government will face, is to ensure that the weekly meetings between the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Ministers (also known as the Kern) are perceived as less confusing than what we have been able to witness during the most intense phase of the pandemic with the Superkern (the Kern, expanded with the parties that granted the special powers for the previous government). The government agreement (counting more than 140 pages) will be an essential tool for charting the course for the future. This will, however, not prevent differences in interpretation, nor will it prevent the fact that the government will certainly have to address issues that are currently not covered by the agreement. Two scenarios are on the table: either the government decides not to defer from the agreement and will be criticised for lacking ambition or solutions, or it decides to go beyond the agreement and all kinds of haggling will ensue. This was regularly the case in previous governments and will presently be even more difficult given the number of players involved.
On the other hand, the role of the party presidents – almost all of which have been newly elected and often sporting flamboyant personalities – was surprisingly predominant during the negotiations. Normally it is customary to involve party experts and those personalities likely to become minister rather quickly during the negotiations. This time, these profiles were not really involved until the very last moment. However, none of the party presidents will play an active role in the government, which will fuel the temptation to actively monitor the government’s actions in order to ensure that their own requirements are met. As guardians of the government agreement, they could also play a role in destabilising the government should they feel that their party’s interests are no longer guaranteed.
Given the context, identifying and taking into account the position of all parties in the coalition will be crucial, as each party is likely to make use of its veto right at any time. It will also be essential to assess the importance of the different issues for each party, as there will certainly be a lot of haggling. Indeed, a party will only accept a concession on an issue if the other parties make concessions elsewhere. Moreover, party presidents must remain on our radar due to their manifest willingness to remain involved in government life.
The composition of the new ministerial cabinets must also be carefully monitored. The Green parties will recruit more broadly to form their cabinets, as will the Socialists who will draw on their respective study centers and regional cabinets, thus initiating a carousel of collaborators. For Open VLD and CD&V, most of the advisers will remain in place, while for MR many will have to leave their posts due to the smaller number of ministers reserved for this party. All these new collaborators will have to learn new skills and will be receptive for any help available to master them.
In Parliament, on the other hand, discipline is back. While the past period has seen the birth of new alliances and an outpouring of initiatives, the traditional game of majority – opposition will be restored.