Belgium

I - Political context

Political change      
I.1
What is the political context of the Eurozone crisis period in Belgium? Have there been changes in government, elections, referenda or other major political events during the period of 2008-present?

The general election of 2007 sparked the beginning of a prolonged period of political instability due to tensions between the two major linguistic groups, Dutch and French speaking. Although de facto a bipolar federal system, Belgium has two different kinds of substate entities with their own sets of competences: regions (three: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels) and communities (three: Flemish Community, the Francophone Community and the Germanophone Community). Regions are territorially defined, and the communities generally follow these lines, with the main exceptions for Brussels (governed by the Flemish and Francophone community). The main thrust of the division of competences is to allocate subject matters with regards to defined socio-economic issues to the Regions, and cultural and linguistic matters to the Communities.[1] The federal level holds the competences with regards to macro-economic policy, social security, labour law, criminal law, and taxation. Additionally, the federal level has the residual competence.

Inherently unstable due to this bipolarity and the absence of national political parties, multiple reforms of state have occurred with regularity since the 1960’s. The recent cycle 2007-2011 culminated in the Sixth Reform of State, with a wide scope: 47 articles of the Constitution (out of 197) were altered, 15 Special Acts and 18 statutes set out in detail the reform. These acts amount to 1130 pages in the Official Gazette.[2] 

Three federal elections have occurred: June 10, 2007, June 13, 2010, and May 25, 2014. In 2007 the formation period during which political parties negotiated to form a government, took 194 days, in 2010-11, an astonishing 541 days. Elections occurred at the substate level in 2009. New governments were rapidly formed. 

During these long periods of political upheaval, the federal government was often the outgoing coalition, competent according to custom with regards to the current affairs. This constitutional doctrine prescribes a certain restraint because of the absence of meaningful parliamentary control. 

Election

Caretaker government

(named after PM)

Political composition[3]

Formation period

Date of new government

(named after PM)

Political Composition

10/06/2007

Verhofstadt II until 21/12/2007

Vld, MR, Sp.a, PS

194 days

 

Temporary government[4]: Verhofstadt III until 20/03/2008

CD&V, cdh, MR, Vld, PS

 

20/03/2008
Leterme I until 30/12/2008

CD&V, cdh, MR, Vld, PS

Van Rompuy I until 25/11/2009

CD&V, cdh, MR, Vld, PS

Leterme II until elections June 2010

CD&V, cdh, MR, Vld, PS

13/06/2010

Leterme II until 6/12/2011

CD&V, cdh, MR, Vld, PS

541 days

 

 

 

6/12/2011
Di Rupo I until elections May 2014

 

PS, Sp.a, CD&V, cdh, MR, Vld

 

25/05/2014

Di Rupo I

PS, Sp.a, CD&V, cdh, MR, Vld

139 days

11/10/2014

(Michel I)

CD&V, Vld, MR and NVA

From this background, it results that during important phases of the financial crisis (financial turmoil starting in 2007 and the EU debt crisis 2010 onwards), the most important actor, the federal government, was often an outgoing government, under the constitutional duty to limit itself to the current affairs.

Moreover, public opinion and political efforts were distracted from the external financial crisis because of the internal on-going state reform and formation process.

[1] For a general introduction: P. Popelier & K. Lemmens, The Constitution of Belgium (Oxford, Hart 2015) 228 p., forthcoming in the series Constitutional Systems of the World.

[2] See in Dutch:  J. Velaers, J. Vanpraet, Y. Peeters and W. Vandenbruwaene (eds.), De Zesde Staatshervorming: instellingen, bevoegdheden en middelen (Intersentia 2014) 1026 p.;  in French: J. Sautois & M. Uyttendaele (eds.), La sixième réforme de l’Etat (2012-2013). Tournant historique ou soubresault ordinaire?  (Limal, Anthemis, 2013) 610 p.

[3] The traditional political parties are divided along linguistic and ideological lines: christen democrats: CD&V and cdh; socialists: Sp.a and PS; liberals: Open Vld and MR; greens: Groen and Ecolo. From 2007 onwards, the Flemish Nationalist Party (NVA) rose to dominance (27 seats out of 150 in the Federal House of Representatives and around 30 % of the votes in Flanders polled continuously since 2010).

[4] This temporary government Verhofstadt III was constitutionally required to limit itself to the current affairs. Mainly because the formation discussions did not seem to lead to a new government fast, and because an annual budget had to be drawn up, this temporary government was sworn in with a limited program of 10 points (see Parliamentary Documents, House of Representatives, report of the debates 21 December 2007, complete report nr 13). The same problem of a drafting an annual budget under current affairs arose again in 2010-11, but was deemed permissible under the doctrine because parliamentary control was guaranteed: it could refuse to adopt the budget.