The stalemate stalling the forming of a government is a scandal that could lead to the “lebanization” of the country.
The word of the Lord came to me:
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.
You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
Ezekiel 34, 1-4.
Public opinion’s loss of trust in the political establishment is a worldwide phenomenon that extends far beyond Belgium’s borders. During the last several months one has witnessed the emergence of citizen’s protest movements – violent or pacific – in Byelorussia, Mali, Lebanon, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Brazil, the United States, France, etc.
Among them, Lebanon is an emblematic example, where, in reaction to the incompetence of the authorities in the aftermath of the explosion in the port of Beirut, the whole population has united against the corruption and the institutionalized power sharing arrangements (along religious lines implemented decades ago) which have progressively led the country to total ruin (the TAEF accords). The display of the criminal dilapidation of the country’s resources by a small elite made up of militarized factions (beholden –or not – to foreign interests) has coalesced the opposition into a “national” cross-party outcry demanding the removal of all those responsible for operating the system.
Though – thankfully – the situation in Belgium has not yet deteriorated on a comparable scale, worrying parallels can be drawn: the current stalled negotiations concerning the formation of a fully empowered government, are reminiscent of identical blockages 9 years ago, but are currently taking place in a severely deteriorated context. There can be no doubt that this is the direct result of the implementation of successive constitutional reforms since the 1960’s which have created an impossibly complex institutional architecture, prone to deliver ever increasing paralysis.
In the face of a crisis of historic proportions, affecting simultaneously matters of health, employment, education, mobility, etc., together with their impact on citizen’s rights, how is it possible to tolerate that the political leaders of all persuasions can indulge in sordid “negotiations” during which one barters (irrelevant) institutional reforms against (partisan) socio-economic concessions.
The party-centred character of the Belgian political regime, conferring huge powers to their representatives and in particular to their leaders, exacerbating their capacity of patronage through their lock on appointments (ministerial or board nominations in State enterprises, etc.) and considering other spoils sharing arrangements along linguistic or dogmatic lines, has led progressively to a stultified structure in which the interests of citizens have become a secondary consideration, creating a serious risk to the democratic process. One can already discern the premises of the decomposition of the State – initiated since the federalization of the country – which can be compared to the Lebanese example and which could, due to the forthcoming crisis, crystallize at any moment.
It is equally astonishing to notice that in the leaks that are emerging from the negotiations, there is no mention of any effort to build a consensus concerning a unified Belgian position in European and/or international policies. One should recall that it is precisely the refusal of the NVA to endorse the U.N. sponsored Marrakech protocol on immigration in November 2018 that led to the current episode of political instability.
Furthermore, the historic agreement on the “EU Recovery Plan”, struck at the July summit of the European Council, implies that any future government program includes as a priority, a consensual view on Belgium’s position in this new framework which involves a considerable strengthening of the powers transferred to the EU. This fact alone puts into question the relevance of any prior further Belgian institutional reforms because there does not appear to be a shared view on the subject given the divergence of reginal interests. Everything appears as if it left was up to Council President Charles Michel, a Belgian, to defend the country’s interests, despite his obligation of neutrality deriving from his mandate.
In conclusion, if it is perfectly normal that any fully empowered government implements a program with the support of a corresponding parliamentary majority, it is high time that the negotiators got out of the ever narrowing rut along which they have been travelling for several decades. If they wish to merit again the trust of their fellow citizens, it is imperative – as the Prophet Ezekiel cited here above exhorts them – to put aside the narrow political ambitions of each party and fully embrace dealing with the real challenges that are darkening the horizon.