The Flemish separatist, rightwing N-VA party will not be part of Belgium's new Federal Government in 2024 without confederalism, said party leader Bart De Wever this weekend – complicating what is already expected to become a difficult government formation puzzle two years before people even go to vote.
The deficits in Belgium's current budget are large and still mounting, and De Wever does not believe that the Federal Government can still succeed in getting this under control. Only confederalism – in which more powers and competencies would go to the regions, instead of the centralised Federal Government – can offer a solution, he said on Flemish radio.
"The budget is bad and only getting worse," he said, pointing to rising costs in social security. "In a federal context, this can no longer be solved. At the Belgian level, you can only decide on spending, everything else has become impossible."
However, not only the federal budget is going into the red: Flemish Government (in which N-VA is the biggest party) also has deficits in the budget. Still, the Flemish budget is structurally sound, according to De Wever. "In 2027, we will have a nice structural surplus."
'Live like a southern Italian'
In response to several of last year's headline-worthy problems in the Flemish government, such as the teachers' shortage and problems in the welfare sector, De Wever responded that "socially there will always be problems. The first duty to the population is to keep the household healthy."
But it is not feasible to systematically live beyond your means, while that is exactly what the Federal Government is doing, he said, adding that the problem mainly lies in Wallonia.
"If in French-speaking Belgium, one wants to live like a Scandinavian, one also has to work like a Scandinavian. But if one wants to work like a southern Italian, then one must also live like a southern Italian." Seemingly missing the point that southern Italy is not a political entity, the comments can be seen as an unnecessary and offensive remark towards southern Europeans.
Additionally, De Wever also sees other problems, such as the highest civil service pensions ("we should not take them away from those who have them, but reduce them in the future"), free medical aid for newcomers to Belgium and artist status ("work 100 days and be unemployed the rest of the year"). "Being eternally unemployed is only possible in this country," he said.
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Therefore, if N-VA wins the next elections (as it did in 2019), the party will "only discuss confederalism with [French-speaking socialists] PS," he said. The PS, led by Paul Magnette, is currently the biggest party in Wallonia. If the confederalism De Wever wants to see does not materialise, N-VA will not enter the new Federal Government.
"The Swedish option is over," he said, referring to a so-called 'Swedish government coalition,' received its name because its three components are thought to represent the country's flag: blue for liberals Open VLD, yellow for N-VA and the cross for Christian-democrats CD&V. The current Flemish Government has this composition.
"It is confederalism or nothing. Otherwise, wealth will have completely disappeared in Flanders by 2029," De Wever added. "What I will not do is succeed [current Prime Minister Alexander] De Croo to follow the dictates of the PS. Status quo is the worst thing that can happen to Flanders."