Who will be Belgium's next prime minister? Lots of candidates, lots of disagreement
With the traditional New Year's receptions officially marking the start of the political year, election fever is rising. Many politicians see themselves as the chosen one who will lead Belgium after the voting 9 June.
Bart De Wever, mayor of Antwerp and leader of Flemish nationalists N-VA, took the lead on Saturday. At the party's New Year's reception, he sounded determined and resolute to lead the country, "stop the decline and thwart the [francophone socialist party] PS raid". Despite losing voters to the far-right Vlaams Belang in Flanders, the government of Alexander De Croo and PS leader Paul Magnette remain De Wever's primary opponents.
On Thursday, Magnette replied to De Wever at his party's New Year reception in Charleroi. He reiterated that he was ready to "assume his responsibilities" at the head of a federal government after the elections.
"If you want to lead a country, you must have dreams and ambitions for this country"
"Mr De Wever now says he wants to be prime minister. We say to him: Mr De Wever, if you want to lead a country, you must have dreams and ambitions for this country, not wish for its end," Magnette said. "We love this country," he said. "We are ready to shoulder our responsibilities."
De Croo, of Flemish liberals Open VLD, is wary of De Wever's "adventures". In recent months, he has consistently presented himself and his party as the opposite of the N-VA.
"Let's not lose ourselves in endless discussions about yet another state reform," he said at the party's gathering on Monday at La Madeleine in Brussels. "This is a loss of energy and wealth." The liberals are willing to discuss how to make the country more efficient, with "less government, less administration and less hassle". "But not if the intention is to divide our country. To divide things, you have to go to the magicians," he said.
"If the people want our economy to do well, they can only be with one party"
Will De Croo seek re-election? "If that is what the people want, yes," he told VRT NWS. "If the people want our economy to do well, they can only be with one party".
In the run-up to the elections, it is not only Open VLD that wants to re-establish itself on the political map but also the Christian democrats CD&V. Leader Sammy Mahdi said at his New Year reception that his party could be the surprise of the elections. He also distanced himself from the "pessimists who only want to divide the country", sayin that nobody in Flanders will benefit from that.
The question remains as to when the new prime minister will be able to take office, as Belgium has a tradition of lengthy government formations. De Wever has already come up with a solution to this problem. If his party is the largest, he wants to form an economic cabinet quickly.
This "small government" would have limited powers, including the budget and some socio-economic reforms. While this government is in place, there could be negotiations on confederalism - more powers for the regions - and other socio-economic reforms.
"We don't need endless government formations, a parade of scouts or informers," said Open VLD leader Tom Ongena. He called De Wever's proposal for an economic cabinet an "unrealistic game". It promises to be another interesting spring on the Belgian political scene.
#FlandersNewsService | N-VA leader Bart De Wever with party colleagues Steven Vandeput, Environment, Energy, Tourism and Justice minister Zuhal Demir, minister president Jan Jambon and minister of Education, Animal Welfare and Sports Ben Weyts at the traditional New Year reception, in Mechelen, 13 January 2024 © BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK