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Friday, October 10, 2014

A new Belgian government: Will Brussels control Brussels?

N-VA leader Bart De Wever and new PM Charles Michel
After less than five months, a relatively short period by local standards, a new federal Belgian government has been agreed.  In the light of our analysis in May, "Scenario 2" has materialised: a federal government which includes the Flemish nationalist N-VA, which hopes their centre-right policies may drive the Francophone socialists to return to their historic demands for more decentralisation.

The new coalition is led by 38 year-old Charles Michel, a Francophone liberal and the son of former EU Development Aid Commissioner Louis Michel, and its centre-right programme has just been revealed. Interestingly, there are a few changes on EU policy in the country which probably is the most inclined to EU-federalism. This is clearly the result of the presence of the N-VA, a party which
has described itself "euro-realist" since 2011, but is part of a broader shift whereby the Francophone socialists have also dared to criticise EU policies.

Here are some excerpts from the programme which show that Belgium is now fully supporting the drive to empower national Parliaments and subscribes to the philosophy of incoming European Commissioner for 'Subsidiarity' Frans Timmermans that "the EU should do what can only be done by the EU and should leave to member states what can be better done by them":

  • "To continue European integration, more legitimacy and transparency are needed. In that respect, the Federal Parliament should play its role with regards to proportionality and subsidiarity".
  • "The government wants a smaller and more effective European Commission".
  •  It stresses that with regards to eurozone solidarity, "this should be objective, transparent and efficient and should not encroach upon the competence of member states for social security provision".
  • "The government wants the integrity of the internal market, to which all EU member states take part, to be respected" (Something the UK government can see as support for insistence that the single market shouldn't fragment as a result of Eurozone integration). 
  • "In its EU policy, the government will fight over regulation and unnecessary meddling which contribute to undermining support for European integration". 
  • "In order to boost democratic responsibility and to strengthen public support for the project of European integration, the Prime Minister is prepared to discuss with Parliament both ahead and after every European Council Summit in order to inform it about the positions of the government and the results of the European Council and to debate these topics. In order to support this debate, the government will as soon as possible contribute to the Advisory Committee for European Affairs" (This sees Belgium follows in the footsteps of amongst others Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, which have similar systems, from the duty of governments to obtain a mandate and an obligation to inform MPs).
There is even a whole chapter devoted to "Introducing the principle of subsidiarity":

  • "We believe strongly in the principle of subsidiarity whereby the EU focuses on domains and actions where it adds value. Policies should be efficient and at the level closest to the citizen. The Union should also be made aware of the sometimes heavy administrative burdens of regulation it imposes on member states, its citizens and companies. All of that is necessary to repair the credibility of Europe among citizens."
Of course, EU-federalist elements remain: the new Belgian government wants to scrap veto powers in foreign policy (while simultaneously supporting a "strong NATO alliance" as well) and wants more harmonisation of EU asylum and migration policy. Still, anyone supporting reform of the EU - and Belgium, which hosts the EU, seems to understand that this is in its interest, as we have made clear - can take heart.


Anonymous said...

why is it that national "leaders" keep trying to convince us that building your own eu prison by coming up with effective ways for closer integration is the same thing as easing eu control of the nations they lead?

do they think we're stupid?

jon livesey said...

Just a straw in the wind, but this morning the UKIP won the Clacton Parliamentary seat by a huge majority and a 60% increase in the UKIP vote.