The scheduled swearing-in of the 150 members of the new federal parliament went ahead yesterday afternoon without a hitch, despite the event having been overshadowed in advance by the presence of a new Vlaams Belang (VB) member on the podium for the ceremony.
The session was presided by Patrick Dewael (Open VLD) as the senior sitting member, and he showed all of his statecraft and experience by pulling off a stunt no-one could have expected.
Instead of placing himself on the stage, flanked by the two youngest members of the assembly, including the contested Dries Van Langenhove of VB, Dewael (pictured, standing) chose to preside from his usual seat in the body of the chamber.
“This is my desk and my chair, and the only place the voters have decided for me,” he said. “And that goes for all of us.”
His decision removed the need for the Vlaams Belang MP to accompany him onstage, and for the other newcomer, Melissa Hanus (PS) to carry out a threat to refuse to join him in Van Langenhove’s presence.
From then, the procedure went smoothly, as all other potential boycotts were made unnecessary, and all 150 elected members were sworn in without problems.
Dewael, an MP since 1985 and a former minister-president of Flanders, is now being tipped as the new full-time speaker of the parliament, following the withdrawal before the elections of Siegfried Bracke. Dewael presided over the chamber twice before, for two years from 2008-2010 and for a brief period in the troubled election year 2014 – but in those cases, from the speaker’s official chair.
Also being mentioned as successors for Bracke are two women: Valerie Van Peel (N-VA) and returning member Tinne Van der Straeten (Groen but elected in Brussels on an Ecolo list).
Then, no sooner were the 150 members of the parliament sworn in than N-VA presented anew its proposal on migration which had caused some disquiet in the preceding legislature, before being quietly buried by the coalition without being presented to parliament.
The main provision of the proposal would give the police the power to enter and search private homes where there was a suspicion they were harbouring illegal aliens. The original proposal had aroused opposition from the French-speaking side, with communes in Brussels and Wallonia – 42 of them in the first few weeks of the proposal being announced – refusing to cooperate with the measure, and investigating magistrates describing the power as “unworkable”.
In two other proposals filed yesterday, the party called for the cost of obtaining Belgian nationality to be increased to 1,250 euros, and for Belgian nationality to be automatically withdrawn from anyone convicted of terrorism.