Home affairs minister Pieter De Crem (CD&V) has been describing the problems he foresees his party facing if they were to join the coalition currently being formed to make up a new government.
De Crem is considered one of the leading figures on the right of his Flemish Christian Democrat party. He has been in parliament for 25 years, and in government since 2007, serving as minister for defence, foreign trade and now home affairs.
The party has also spent many years in government, delivering prime ministers like Wilfried Martens, Jean-Luc Dehaene, Yves Leterme and Herman Van Rompuy, dating back to the country’s first, Etienne de Gerlache, who served a term of less than a month in 1831.
But now, CD&V president Joachim Coens is involved in talks to form a coalition made up of socialists (PS and sp.a/Vooruit), liberals (MR and Open VLD), greens (Ecolo and Groen) and CD&V.
And the trouble with that plan, De Crem said in an interview with De Standaard today, is that his party would face “a gigantic credibility problem” were it to join the others.
“We are mathematically superfluous,” he explained. The six other parties have enough seats to form a majority, in fact.
“My experience shows that such a thing means that we will not have a role to play. We will never be able to veto a bill. Imagine that the government gets going and a bill is presented to extend the term for abortion. That’s a horror scenario.”
The only reason CD&V has been asked to the talks, he said, is purely tactical.
“We have only been asked to get around the table to bring the coalition as close as possible to a Flemish majority. That’s why.”
He might also have mentioned that bringing CD&V into the tent has the effect of boosting the government majority by 12 MPs and so weakening the opposition.
The main objection to the exclusion of N-VA, whose president Bart De Wever had been in promising talks with PS president Paul Magnette, was that it would lead to a government with a Flemish minority, thus not representative of the Flemish majority in the population.
And De Crem was almost nostalgic over the idea of a government between PS and N-VA.
“We could be happy with their terms,” he said. “Unfortunately Open-VLD came in and blew purple-yellow out of the water,” referring to the coalition PS (red), MR (blue), N-VA (yellow) coalition.
But the so-called Vivaldi coalition (because of the colours of the parties and the movements of the composer’s Four Seasons suite) has offered CD&V no guarantees or reassurances.
“Niente, nada, nothing. I do not have the impression that the text, which is full of generalities, contains many of our points,” he said.
“It most closely resembles the Groen and Ecolo program, with terms such as carrying capacity, or the widest shoulders that have to bear the heaviest loads. The greens are homesick for purple-green. Me too, because afterwards the Greens dropped below the electoral threshold.”
Now, whatever the next step may be, the deadline imposed by Open-VLD president Egbert Lachaert, leading the talks with Flemish socialist president Conner Rousseau, seems impossible to meet.
“That’s just not feasible,” De Crem said. “I have never seen so many parties argue so much when forming a government. The previous purple-green government had an open-debate culture, this one seems to be an open-warfare culture. If anything comes out at all, it will have to be a very detailed agreement. Vivaldi will not be able to make interim agreements.”