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Belgium's new government: Why did the 'Vivaldi' coalition take so long to form?

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By Pauline Bock
New Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, centre, with new members of the Belgian government after a swearing-in ceremony, Brussels, October 1, 2020.
New Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, centre, with new members of the Belgian government after a swearing-in ceremony, Brussels, October 1, 2020.   -   Copyright  Danny Gys, Pool via AP
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At last! After 653 days of delay, Belgium has a new government and a prime minister, the Flemish liberal Alexander de Croo.

Because of COVID-19, the government was presented to Belgian MPs in the European Parliament, whose hemicycle is large enough to enable social distancing.

The confidence motion was passed last Sunday (October 3), with 87 votes in favour and 54 against.

Why did the process last so long?

It's a new record for Belgium, whose system can make political negotiations go on for months, even years. Over the past decade, Belgians have spent a total of more than three years without a fully functioning government. The previous record was 589 days between 26 April 2010 and 6 December 2011.

This time, everything began on 18 December 2018 with the resignation of Charles Michel's government, forced to throw in the towel after Flemish nationalists left the coalition.

Michel carried on his stewardship until the federal parliamentary elections on 26 May 2019... which led to a new impasse.

What caused the deadlock?

Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of the country, voted for right-wing parties such as the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) and the far-right party Vlaams Belang (VB), whereas the francophone Wallonia opted for parties of the left, like the Socialist Party (PS) and the greens.

This rival camps did not get on with each other.

In December 2019, Michel was appointed as President of the European Council and made way for new interim prime minister Sophie Wilmès, the first woman to fill the post in Belgium.

How did they reach an agreement?

It took the global coronavirus pandemic and a call this summer from Belgium's King Philippe for a "resolute and stable" government, to clear up the situation.

The parties had given themselves 50 days to strike a deal otherwise there was only one solution: new elections, which no-one wanted. Indeed, the results risked being the same as in 2019.

On Wednesday (September 30), the liberals from the Reformist Movement (MR) and the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Open VLD), the socialists from the PS and the Sp.a, the green parties Ecolo and Groen, and the Christian Democratic and Flemish party (CD&V), came together to form a coalition. Its four distinct political forces have given it the nickname "Vivaldi", after the famous composer's "Four Seasons".

Who is the new prime minister?

De Croo, 44, is from the liberal Open VLD. He was an engineer and a consultant before turning to politics, following in the footsteps of his father Herman de Croo.

The man who is now prime minister stood unsuccessfully in the 2009 European elections, before being elected VLD president six months later. He served as a minister under various governments and was deputy prime minister under Charles Michel et Sophie Wilmès.

Before taking office at "le Seize", the prime minister's official office at 16, rue de la Loi in Brussels, he was best known for having provoked the fall of the federal government in 2010.

Can this government survive?

The Flemings from the nationalist V-VA and from the far-right VB will pit all their strength against the new "Vivaldi" coalition they are not part of.

De Croo has called for "cooperation, respect and solidarity", but he knows that to manage an alliance of seven parties will be far from easy.

The battle against COVID-19, investing in health, tax reform... the new government's agenda is vast. First, they just need to get along.