Prime minister Charles Michel (photo) looks almost certain to face a vote of confidence in the federal parliament, to allow his minority government to carry on in office and avoid a national election five months earlier than scheduled. The Flemish nationalist party N-VA left the government last week after Michel’s determination to go ahead with approving the United National agreement on migration, and is now determined to call a vote of no confidence in parliament on the remaining minority government, according to Peter De Roover, head of the party’s parliamentary group. Bart De Wever, the party’s president who does not actually sit in parliament, has called on Michel to come forward with his government’s plans for the remaining period of this legislature.
“We have agreed on lots of good things with this coalition,” he said. “Such as the jobs deal and taxation of pensions. If they come forward with those reforms I’ll be glad to approve. I have absolutely no desire for early elections.”
Opposition parties sp.a and Groen have also demanded a vote of confidence in the minority government, but that is what opposition parties are assumed to do. More convincingly from Michel’s point of view, he has been advised to hold a vote of confidence by the parliament’s own judicial services.
“Although it is not legally enforceable, there exists a constitutional convention that the government make a declaration or a statement following any change in its composition, followed by a debate and a vote of confidence,” the judicial service write in a note to all political groups.
Michel’s remaining coalition represents 52 parliamentary seats, while the new opposition, including the N-VA, counts 96 seats. Michel has started on a round of talks with all parties individually, in an effort to explain his government’s programme and stave off early elections, which it is estimated will cost the taxpayer €8 million.
Meanwhile the departure of N-VA from the government has left 180 staff of the three ministers and two secretaries of state without jobs. The party has now started implementing a plan to find alternatives places for the ministry staff.
Of the five office-holders themselves, four already have jobs to go back to. Zuhal Demir, secretary of state for equal opportunities, goes back to her elected seat in parliament, as do Theo Francken, former secretary of state for migration and Jan Jambon, former minister for home affairs. In addition, Jambon is mayor of Brasschaat in Antwerp province, and Francken mayor of Lubbeek in Flemish Brabant. Johan Van Overtveldt, who became finance minister after a long career in journalism, is retiring.
Only Sander Loones, who left the European parliament in November to become minister of defence, remains jobless. Until the federal parliament, the European parliament allows a departing member to be replaced by their party, but has no provision for that member to return later.