The long road to nowhere

    Monday, 23 December 2019
    This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

    Albert Einstein is purported to have said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” An outstanding example of this premise is the work of the so-called informateurs, political “leaders” appointed by King Philippe to facilitate the start of talks between the winning and losing parties from both sides of the language border.

    The first two informateurs were veteran politicians: the Dutch-speaking former minister, Johan Vande Lanotte, and the French-speaking Didier Reynders, the recently named EU Commissioner responsible for justice.

    Their effectiveness and alacrity at bringing any progress to the formation of a government are on par with the Syrian government’s Commission on Human Rights.

    The speed with which these two political dinosaurs were proceeding was nothing short of a disgrace and a political slap in the face to the Belgian electorate.

    Actually, their reluctance to even give a hint to the voter of the progress they were making is a dishonour to their roles and conveys a simple message to the voter: thank you for voting, we’ll take over from now on.

    We put our faith in them, and they have let us down by denying the voter any form of transparency and finding excuses for not progressing beyond their empty statements about taking their time to get it right, etc.

    Following the above-mentioned appointment and disappointment, in October King Philipe named two political hacks, Geert Bourgeois of the N-VA and Rudy Demotte of the PS, as the preformateurs – can there be anything more demeaning than a position that is even lower than an informateur?

    They got as far as Vande Lanotte and Reynders, namely nowhere. Fortunately, we didn’t have to endure their lack of forward movement for too long, as they were quickly dispatched and replaced in November by a new informateur, the president of the SP, Paul Magnette.

    Despite booking some progress in the excruciating march towards forming a federal government, coalition, Magnette gave up the post, against a background of rancour and communal bad feelings. Einstein’s definition of insanity confirmed, once again.

    On 12 December, two new individuals were asked to take on the daunting task of finding the practical possibilities of forming a government coalition. Joachim Coens of the CD&V and Georges-Louis Bouchez of the MR were charged with trying to find a path that will lead to the formation of a coalition to lead the nation.

    They presented their progress report to the head of state on 20 December, afterwhich the King quickly extended their mandate until 13 January 2020. Mr Coens has only been the leader of his party since Friday 6 December, while Mr Bouchez became the new leader of the Francophone liberals in November.

    Apparently the King feels some new blood will break the stalemate that has paralysed the country since the elections of 26 May. It hasn’t yet.

    Watching the process over the last seven months, one wonders how Italy (yes, Italy) can dissolve its government in one day, and produce a new government 24 hours later.

    It seems that the politicians leading the negotiations in forming the federal government are acting in the cautious manner of political novices. I ask where is the passion for the integrity of the country? Where is the sense of responsibility to the citizens of Belgium? Where is the impatience with the politicians who refuse to go forward with negotiations towards forming a government? When can we finally get this country started again and get off this long road to nowhere.

    By Arthur Rubinstein