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06/12/2016

Key EU portfolio slipping out of Belgium’s hands

EU Elections 2014

Key EU portfolio slipping out of Belgium’s hands

Parlement belge [Ben2/ creative commons]

Delays in forming a government may come at a price for Belgium’s EU Commission post in Brussels, according to the country’s outgoing Prime Minister. EurActiv France reports.

Never-ending government forming talks are nothing new to Belgian politics. However, this time the stakes are higher, as it could reduce Belgian influence in the European Commission, the EU executive body.

Hendrik Vos, a political science Professor in Ghent University, said that “forming a government will take more time”.

“The decision regarding the next Belgian Commissioner will be taken before the federal government is put together,” he told EurActiv.

Negotiations not making headway

Bart de Wever, president of the Flemish separatist party (N-VA), was given the mission of gathering all opinions and political wills from different Belgian parties in order to establish a new government. He presented his report on June 25. He failed to form a government with Belgium’s Christian-Democratic party (CD&V and CDH) and the French-speaking Liberals (MR). The CDH refused when its president, Benoît Lutgen, claimed “the trust was not there.”

>> Read: Bart De Wever will struggle to form a Belgian government

After talking with all party leaders, the Belgian King appointed the leader of the French-speaking liberal MR party, Charles Michel, to take up where de Wever left off and find a solution. His job will not be easy due to tensions between his party and both the Socialists and Christian-Democrats.

Propose a Commissioner ASAP

“It is in Belgium’s best interest to put forward someone as soon as possible,” said Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo, during the European Summit on 26-27 June.

There is no official timetable for the next steps, but Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the EU Commission, will assemble his crew for the new Commission during the summer. The new EU executive is due to take up its duties on 1 November 2014.

The current Belgian Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, is in charge of the important trade portfolio. As Commissioner for Trade he is overseeing talks with the USA on the transatlantic trade agreement, TTIP.

Elio Di Rupo said that if Belgium fails to present their a candidate for the Commission before September, they will have to settle for a less important portfolio.

Marianne Thyssen, Belgium’s next Commissioner?

Belgian Commissioners have historically alternated between different linguistic and political backgrounds. Before Karel De Gucht (Liberal Flemish-speaker), Louis Michel (Liberal French-speaker) held the development and humanitarian aid portfolio from 2004 to 2009.

The last time there was a Flemish-speaking Christian-Democratic Commissioner was from 1967 to 1972. “It is an unwritten rule, but now it is the Christian-Democrats’ turn,” said Kathleen Van Brempt, a Flemish socialist MEP, speaking on VRT television’s Sunday political show

Hendrik Vos told EurActiv by email: “Marianne Thyssen has a good chance [of becoming the next Belgium Commissioner]. Both her friends and enemies agree that she is reliable […] She also has a good reputation in the EU.”

For her part, Thyssen prefers remaining vague. “We speak too much of my eventual nomination,” she told VRT. “We should not be trying to answer questions that have not yet been asked.”

Background

The 25 May 2014 was an important date for Belgian politics. The people voted in the European, federal and regional elections.

As was predicted by the polls, the Flemish separatists, N-VA, came out on top in the elections. In Flanders, Bart De Wever's party exceeded 30% of votes. There is no doubt that the Flemish separatists gained a lot from the fall of Vlaams Belang, Belgium's far right party. For the governmental parties led by Di Rupo (Socialists, Liberals and Christian-Democrats), the elections marked a return to stability. The French-speaking Green party lost half of their electorate. Two far-left representatives won a seat in the Belgium government.

At the federal level, Bart De Wever spent a month trying in vain to form a coalition. It is now Charles Michel's turn to try and find a solution.

Timeline

  • 14-17 July: Parliament votes to approve or reject Commission president nominee in Strasbourg plenary session
  • Summer: National leaders designate their commissioners to Brussels. New president distributes portfolios within his team of 27 commissioners
  • September: Each commissioner is scrutinised in individual hearings before Parliament committees
  • October: European Parliament votes to approve or reject new Commission College as a whole
  • 1 November: Target date for new Commission to take office

Further Reading