The president of the French-speaking socialist party (PS), Paul Magnette, has ruled out the possibility of forming an emergency government together with N-VA.
Instead, Magnette said his party would put its weight behind the acting government of Sophie Wilmès (MR). PS is not in the existing coalition, so its support is a major addition.
This morning it seemed there might be a slim chance that the two largest parties to emerge from the elections last May – PS in Wallonia and Brussels and N-VA in Flanders – could set aside their differences and work together in a new government at a time of crisis.
The two parties are diametrically opposed on virtually all policy fronts, and Magnette has already ruled out a coalition that involves N-VA. But that was before the coronavirus emergency.
Now, the important thing is to put in place a fully-functioning government in the place of the one headed by Wilmès, which is theoretically restricted to dealing only with ongoing matters.
Magnette’s expression of support for Wilmès means he would not challenge any of her government’s decisions, whether or not they fell outside the responsibilities of a caretaker government. But the challenge could come from anywhere. And if the Council of State were to rule that the government had exceeded its powers, it would be a severe blow.
The PS support for the government covers any measures it may take to deal with the effects of the coronavirus, regarding both health matters and economic effects.
That leaves N-VA once more outside the tent. The party had been instrumental in bringing about talks that only a matter of hours ago looked promising. But it was not happy to keep Wilmès in 16 Rue de la Loi, the prime minister’s office. Whether N-VA president Bart De Wever had his own eye on that office, no-one will now say.
Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon, standing in for De Wever in the talks, ruled out the idea of giving a carte blanche to Wilmès’ government.
“What we need now is a government with full executive power, with a narrow focus, a clearly defined mission and a limited membership,” he told the VRT.
“But the essential fact now is that the PS does not want to sit in a government with us. We are the biggest party in the country. What right do French-speakers have to issue such an ukase against us?”