Analysis: Elections 2024, but wouldn’t 2023 be the better idea?

With less than a year to go before the national and regional elections of June 2024, both the federal and the Flemish government are paralysed. The federal government over a planned tax reform, the Flemish government over limits on nitrogen emissions. Coalition partners have become enemies, and make no effort to hide it. Should both of them throw in the towel, many wonder.

Both issues are technical, but the federal one is the easier to explain. The tax burden in Belgium is very unbalanced, with high taxes on labour income and much less on other sorts of income or other issues such as pollution or capital. Everybody agrees on this. Everybody also agrees that taxes on labour should be much lower.

Where the disagreement comes in is the question of how to finance this. Right-wing parties say authorities should spend less, left-wing parties say “taxes on the rich” should go up. The result is that for decades, this huge problem has remained unsolved.

The present Finance minister, Vincent Van Peteghem (CD&V), had a plan to start tackling the problem, with a very modest start of a 6 billion euro shift. This has already gone down to 2 billion, and even that looks too ambitious for the De Croo government. Coalition partner MR, the francophone liberals, said on Monday they didn’t want to negotiate any longer.


The Flemish problem is also about a burden. Flanders has a lot of industrial and agricultural activity, and that has led to a burden on the environment that is too heavy. Everybody agrees this should go down, but again: how do you do that? The biggest coalition partner, Flemish nationalists N-VA, wants to reduce agricultural activity, mostly livestock. Christian democrat coalition partner CD&V, a party with strong links to farmers, says agriculture will suffer too much, and points instead to industry, which is protected by N-VA.

The political problem is aggravated by the legal complexity. Writing a correct and detailed law about what would still be allowed is hard enough in itself. If coalition partners disagree and try to find compromises that nobody understands, legal certainty is an impossibility.

Aggressive style

It’s no coincidence that the protagonists in both cases are politicians who are known for their aggressive style towards coalition partners, for their hunger for media attention, and for their focus on the next elections.

At the federal level, MR- resident Georges-Louis Bouchez has been working on a sharp profile for his party since the start of the federal De Croo government. His attacks on coalition partners and his perceived lack of loyalty towards the government and the compromises it makes have made him very unpopular within the coalition.

Flemish Environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) has had several clashes with farmers. She accuses CD&V of prioritising the interests of farmers over the general interest. Demir is also in a everlasting war with the federal government – of which N-VA is not part, but her coalition partners CD&V and Open VLD are. The legality of her decisions is often questioned by experts.

Where do we go from here?

Most observers and politicians understand this way of doing politics can’t continue. But nobody knows how to change it. In Belgium, most political parties are very small, and the others are just small. This means they all have to fight for their survival. Making compromises is seen as losing your political identity.

On the other hand, without compromises, you have a constant street fight, which is hugely unpopular. When coalition partners end the mandate of their government by fighting, they all lose in the elections that follow.

Legally, the situation at the federal and the regional level is different. At the federal level, it’s possible to have early elections. If nothing is working anymore, prime minister Alexander De Croo could simply announce elections within weeks. At the regional level, early elections are not allowed. The government can only be dissolved if an alternative coalition is formed. Because of several reasons, this is highly unlikely in Flanders for the moment. So, for the next year, in Flanders and Belgium, governments will continue to kick the can down the road. Until Sunday 9 June 2024.


#FlandersNewsService | ©BELGA PHOTO HATIM KAGHAT


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