Paul Magnette (PS) and Bart De Wever (N-VA) have abandoned their attempt to put together a new government coalition, and will ask the King on Monday to relieve them of their mission.
The two so-called preformateurs had an exploratory role: to sound out the other parties on the possibility of creating a coalition with a majority in parliament. Had that been possible, it would then have been the job of someone else to become formateur by leading negotiations among the parties to determine what should be in the new government’s governing accords.
But that part of the process is now as far-distant as it was on 27 May 2019, the day the results of the last federal election was known.
The two parties, PS and N-VA, are the two with the most representatives in parliament, with 20 and 25 respectively. A coalition of 76 seats is required to form a majority.
Until today, the two preformateurs were counting on a coalition of socialists (PS + SP.A with a total of 29 seats) and N-VA (25) together with Christian Democrats (CD&V + cdH with 17).
That brings the total to 71 seats in the so-called “bubble of five”– five short of a majority. The numbers could be made up by the inclusion of Greens (Ecolo + Groen with 21 seats) or of liberals (Open VLD + MR with 26).
And that is where the attempts collapsed. Both of those groups have issues with the plans for the next government expressed by either PS (for the liberals) or by N-VA (for the Greens). And neither appreciated the feeling of being played off against each other to see who would be allowed to join the new government.
In addition, De Wever had made an attempt, the liberals complained, to drive a wedge between them in a bid to get the support of Open VLD and their 12 seats, which would have been enough to create a majority. But the two blue parties are not to be split.
The two preformateurs were due to meet the King on Monday to apprise him of their progress. They will ask him to relieve them of their mission, and he may decide to agree or choose rather to send them on their way to try a little harder.
Magnette and De Wever, meanwhile, consider they have gone as far as it is possible to go – and it is worth remembering that there was at one point not the slightest chance that Magnette and De Wever might even sit down in the same room.
They will suggest to the King that it is now the turn of Greens and liberals to make an effort to create a government, having torpedoed their own efforts.
In the meantime, the clock is ticking, and the deadline of 17 September looms, when the special powers granted by parliament to the caretaker government of Sophie Wilmès will expire.