Federal politics in Belgium took a new turn yesterday when the King appointed justice minister Koen Geens (CD&V) to carry out talks with a view to forming a new government.
Since the federal elections in May last year, several politicians, starting with old hands Johan Vande Lanotte (sp.a) and Didier Reynders (MR) and ending with relative newcomers Joachim Coens (CD&V) and Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR), have been sent out by the King to speak to the political parties in order to sound out the possibilities of creating a coalition.
In the meantime, the caretaker government of which Geens is a part – also known as a government of ongoing affairs – has found itself hog-tied by its inability to launch new initiatives.
Last night the King issued a statement in which he said he had concluded “the discussions between the parties have not yet permitted the formation of a coalition with the backing of a parliamentary majority”. Geens for his part tweeted, “The King has asked me to be his royal operative. I have accepted the commission, and will carry out my duty in complete discretion.” He also thanked Coens and Bouchez for their work.
Interestingly, Geens has not been given any of the titles usually attributed to his role, but rather one that means something like “royal fixer”. His job is being seen as two-fold: to bring Flemish nationalist N-VA and the socialist PS to the table, the two parties having so far failed to even have a serious meeting. The PS under Paul Magnette refuses to even countenance a coalition with N-VA but cannot easily go it alone not that his party has removed the party whipfrom a crucial MP in St-Josse mayor Emir Kir.
Geens is also expected to make an effort to break the logjam by making his party’s position on governing with the N-VA – something that have done before both at federal and Flemish level.
For the time being, however, he appears to be sticking to the faint possibility of a coalition featuring both of the country’s largest parties. “I will have special contacts with the two major parties, as with the others, and as I have already said, I do not change my mind so easily.”
Geens will report back to the King on his talks by 10 February. Asked if his new role was an indication he might become the new prime minister, he brushed the question aside. “At this moment, that is an absolutely irrelevant question,” he replied. “If you think I am someone who would accept this mission while nursing such an ambition, then you are mistaken.”