Coup d’Etat in Belgium? King Wants to Bestow Extended Powers on Outgoing PM
From the desk of Paul Belien on Mon, 2007-12-03 13:47
Update: This afternoon, Guy Verhofstadt, who has been Belgium’s caretaker Prime Minister since the 10 June general elections (which he lost), paid a second emergency visit to King Albert II. Earlier today the King’s suggestion that Mr Verhofstadt be given expanded powers was met with indignation and criticism from leading constitutional experts. Prof. Paul Van Orshoven lambasted the idea during the radio news at noon.
The King has now decided to appoint Mr Verhofstadt as “informateur.” The latter’s task is to inform the King, within a short period of time, about possible ways to solve the Belgian political crisis. The King, who in Belgium has more powers than royalty in other democracies, will then decide what to do. There is, however, no solution to the crisis as long as the French-speaking Wallloon minority keeps vetoing the democratic demand of the Dutch-speaking Flemish majority for more autonomy and for a restriction of the welfare subsidies which flow from free-market oriented Flanders to socialist-dominated Wallonia.
Belgian television reports that today, on the 176th day of Belgium’s political crisis, the Belgian king, Albert II of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, has bestowed “urgent” powers, including dealing with “international matters,” on Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose Liberal-Socialist coalition was battered in the general elections on 10 June. This is in violation of the Belgian Constitution which does not provide for extended powers to governments without a parliamentary majority. Probably the European Union authorities in Brussels back this unconstitutional move by the Belgian King. The King, however, has been careful not to make any official announcement after meeting Mr Verhofstadt this morning.
Since the elections almost six months ago Guy Verhofstadt, having lost his parliamentary majority, has remained Prime Minister in a caretaker position. The Belgian parliamentary elections on 10 June were won overwhelmingly by the Flemish Christian-Democrats of Yves Leterme. The Dutch-speaking majority of the Belgians, living in Flanders, demand more regional autonomy, while the French-speaking minority in Wallonia opposes this. As a Belgian government needs to consist of 50% Flemings and 50% Walloons, Mr Leterme’s efforts have not led to the formation of a government.
As a caretaker Guy Verhofstadt’s powers are severely restricted. The caretaker PM cannot initiate new policies or take decisions which bind the country. The question has been raised whether Mr Verhofstadt is allowed to sign the new European Treaty on 13 December in Lisbon. Though some legal experts think he is allowed to sign, Parliament cannot ratify any Treaty because the caretaker government cannot present it to Parliament for ratification. The fact that the caretaker government cannot submit EU directives to the Belgian Parliament for (automatic) approval (there never is a debate because EU member states are obliged to implement EU directives) is already causing headaches in EuroBrussels. In Belgium (as elsewhere in the EU members states) three quarters of the legislation emanates from the EU authorities.
King Albert granted Mr Verhofstadt special – urgent – powers with regard to the budget, security issues, justice, and “a number of international matters” [een aantal buitenlandse dossiers]. Undoubtedly, the King’s move has the support of the EU authorities who fear anarchy in Belgium. There is no anarchy in Belgium in the sense of political disorder – because life continues in its usual placid way – but there is anarchy in the original meaning of ἀναρχία anarchía (“without a government or ruler”). Many Belgians would not mind if this situation of ἀναρχία, which has now been continuing for six months, goes on for many more months. The Belgians don’t need a Belgian government, but the EU needs a Belgian government.
As John Laughland observed recently: “Everyone knows that the main decisions [in the EU] are taken in secret by the unelected Commission and the unaccountable Council of Ministers [the representatives of the governments of the EU member states]. National parliaments are systematically emasculated by the EU, which gives governments the right to make laws, in secret.”
In the past half year no European directives have been introduced in Belgium, with the result that, paradoxically, the country’s ungovernability has left it more sovereign than it has ever been since 1957, when Belgium signed its sovereignty away to the European authorities in the Treaty of Rome.
More on this issue here:
Brussels: Coalition Talks Collapse. Belgians Don’t Need No Government, 1 December 2007
Why the Eurocrats Fear the Belgian Anarchy, 30 November 2007
See extended list at end of article.
A Throne in Brussels: Britain, the Saxe-Coburgs and the Belgianisation of Europe
Author: Paul Belien
Submitted by markpetens on Tue, 2007-12-04 13:29.
I'm not entirely sure either, but I believe parliament can still create bills under a care-taker cabinet. Ministers are not allowed to put forth new initiatives, because Royal decrees are not allowed anymore?
The paniced Walloons must be stocking up on beer and cigarettes
Submitted by Zen Master on Tue, 2007-12-04 00:44.
With the current problem, there does not seem to be any ‘easy solution.’ The Walloon minority does not wish to give any ground to the Flemish majority who seem to pay for most of the welfare benefits the Walloons receive. The Flemish need to continue taking a firm stand against the pressure that will be brought against them.
At the same time, the king and the Walloons must be in a panic at the thought of having a revolt by the Flemish who support them. I can’t help but be amused at the idea of maybe a million or more Walloons in a panic if the Flemish reduce their tax payments or refuse to make payments. The Walloons must be laying in stocks of beer and cigarettes now.
God bless America. God bless the GOP.
Submitted by Norman Conquest 304 on Mon, 2007-12-03 18:40.
The second paragraph of this excellent text always reminds me of an advertisement aired on Belgian radio a few years ago: “Flemings are Belgians who live and work in the North (of Belgium), whereas Walloons are Belgians who live in the South”. See the point?
In my view, the most important message delivered by the so-called Belgian crisis is that the Flemings are rightfully tired of any form of socialism, you know, that noxious ideology which has torn Wallonia apart.
Although I understand it and even approve it, I don’t really care about Flanders' ultra-nationalistic stance. Because it is not the point here.
Paul Belien, and he’s not the only one, has often convincingly compared the EU to a new USSR and rightfully so, with present-day Belgium being the epitome of a backward planned and overregulated economic "model".
Here’s the link to a text recently published in Germany’s leftist “Der Spiegel” - now apparently even Leftists are also complaining about the current state of affairs in the EU:
God bless America. God bless the GOP. Redefeat Communism in America while it's not too late and say "NO" to Hillary (while it's not too late either). As for Old Europe, I've given up any hope.
Confusion on constitutional matters
Submitted by Emigrantus on Mon, 2007-12-03 18:10.
I'm not particularly knowledgeable in constitutional matters, but I'm surprised by your statement that the "Belgian Constitution (...) does not provide for extended powers to governments without a parliamentary majority". I thought that in Belgium a government, in the sense of a set of royally appointed ministers, did not, in principle, rely on having a majority in parliament. I always understood that having a ministerial cabinet reflecting a party-based majority in parliament was a fairly recent phenomenon and a "mere" political practice (reflecting the legal necessities of maintaining a social democratic state and a shift to rule-by-decree), and that "technocratic" governments (like a "zakenkabinet") were constitutionally legal and in fact acceptable practice in the classical liberal conception of the separation of powers? I'm pretty sure I don't understand these issues fully, but could you please clarify this to a most loyal reader of yours?