'Irresponsibly' leaked document sparks speculation on incoming federal government

'Irresponsibly' leaked document sparks speculation on incoming federal government
The draft note succinctly outlined plans for stricter migration policies and plans to keep Belgium's nuclear power plants open for longer. © Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga

A universal pensions scheme, a delay on shutting down nuclear energy and a clampdown on irregular migration would be some of the guiding policies of the new federal government, according to draft government note "irresponsibly" leaked on Wednesday.

The 25-page document, dismissed by one its authors as "inexact," sparked speculation among political parties after it was anonymously leaked out to Belgian media on Wednesday evening.

The preliminary note was intended to guide the ongoing negotiations to form a ruling coalition at the federal level, a process currently led by royal informants Georges-Louis Bouchez and Joachim Coens, after five other government officials walked away from the job.

Written alternatively in French and Dutch, the note signals a shift to the centre-right policies of the previous administration, led by Bouchez's predecessor at the head of the MR Francophone liberal party, Charles Michel.

The note succinctly mentions plans to implement a basic universal pensions system alongside ambitions to sharply reduce the budget deficit, estimated to hit €12 billion by 2024.

Additionally, Bouchez's and Coens draft formation note suggests the appointment a Royal Commissioner to oversee a state reform, a measure already put forward by Coens' centre-right CD&V party.

The document also pairs a slowdown on the closure of nuclear power plants with scantly detailed green investment plan to keep up with the EU's environmental policies, De Standaard reports.

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The drafted document also outlines intentions to increase the capacity of migrant detention centres and to speed up the processing of asylum requests.

The large policy scope but minimal detail contained in the note prompted quick reactions from across the political spectrum, including a positive nod from the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), the biggest winner in last year's election.

"It is a more realistic note. (...) I think that the political reality in Flanders has now been taken more into account," Peter De Roover, leader of the N-VA group in the Chamber, said on Radio 1.

Reacting to the leak, Bouchez said on Twitter lashed out at the "irresponsibility" of anonymously circulating "inexact" and "lacunary" information, which he said was counterproductive to the negotiations.

"Is it really serious to issue comments on a document we have not read?" Bouchez tweeted, adding: "The urgent situation of our country requires calm, discretion and constructive work."

The leak coincides with a day of consultations by the informants ahead of Monday, when they are expected to submit a final note to King Philippe on the current state of the negotiations since the first royal informants were appointed in May 2019.

The negotiations have been fraught and deadlocked, with parties at loggerheads over the shape a future governing coalition should take, with the latest attempt at forming a government led by the leader of the Francophone Socialists, Paul Magnette.

The appointment of Bouchez and Coens was seen as a last-ditch attempt to facilitate the creation of a ruling coalition and break the impasse, which saw five informants, including Belgium's current EU commissioner and the former deputy prime minister, walk away from the job.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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