Gone are the days when the Flemish government could blame the national government for its instability, as Flemish political leaders are increasingly characterised by division and disloyalty.
The situation in Flanders has turned sour, especially between the coalition partners N-VA and CD&V. This is a very different picture from that at the beginning of the legislature when the coalition parties, led by Jan Jambon (N-VA), got to work. Although they got off to a good start, things took a turn for the worse with the arrival of Covid-19.
Lack of support
Despite the 4.3 billion euro recovery plan, it quickly became clear that the pandemic had hit Flemish residential care homes particularly hard. Decades of underfunding of the care sector were partly to blame. Wouter Beke (CD&V), then minister for Welfare, Health, Family and Poverty Reduction, was also criticised for his lack of support during the outbreak.
At the same time, Beke was responsible for contact tracing to limit the number of Covid-19 infections. Here, too, problems piled up: infected people were called too late or not at all, and high-risk contacts were informed too late. In December 2021, it emerged that one of the call centres responsible for contact tracing may have been committing fraud.
The spring of 2022 brought tragedy when a toddler died in a crèche, and Flanders’ Child and Family Service received a growing number of complaints about other crèches. In May 2022, Beke resigned. Party colleague Hilde Crevits replaced him.
Beke’s resignation, followed by a historically low result in the mid-term polls, led to the resignation of party leader Joachim Coens in June 2022. He was succeeded by Sammy Mahdi, who resigned as state secretary for Asylum and Migration in the federal government. With the aim of putting CD&V back on the map, the party’s profiling campaign ensures that the government’s engine continues to sputter.
This was also the case in the autumn of 2022, when CD&V demanded the indexation of the growth package, the former child benefit. It was Beke who had previously helped to reverse the reduction in child benefit. As a result of CD&V’s opposition to the adoption of the growth package without indexation, the September declaration – the annual statement on the general social situation in Flanders, the direction of policy and the budget of the Flemish government – was postponed for the first time in its history. Two days later, CD&V voted in favour of the barely adjusted budget.
CD&V also played a leading role in the nitrogen dossier. After an initial proposal on Flemish nitrogen emissions in the spring of 2022, the dossier is still being debated today: so much so that N-VA and Open VLD recently sidelined CD&V to table a bill in parliament on the agreement.
Despite the frustration and profiling, all the governing parties are still on board. None of them can pull the plug on the coalition less than a year before the elections. On the contrary, the parties are able to increase their visibility, as N-VA and CD&V are doing, in the knowledge that no one will pull out.
All in all, it promises to be an exciting few months before the 2024 elections. And with Belgium’s European presidency on the horizon, keeping the government on track will also be necessary.