Thursday, October 13, 2011

Elio de Rupo, potential Belgian P.M., ...or to make a virtue of necessity.

After a governmental lockout which looked hopeless, Belgian political parties, minus one, have reached a framework agreement. Getting there was tedious. A micro-argument caused the longest crisis in history and ended up in a complex, inflated agreement which will, in all probability, be over-ruled like previous short-lived final reforms.

This is for how long? Past history now and the “reset” looks ready to be restarted. Belgium might soon have in the person of Elio de Rupo a Prime Minister unlike any other. Sophisticated, ”sarcasmofile”, elegant and smart, he will also be the first French-speaker to occupy the post of Belgian Prime Minister in decennia. He also risks being obliged to preside over a government wherein the Flemish majority in the country might be the minority in the Government. Last but not least, he will have to be some sort of wizard to preside over the formation of a small government, while his majority in parliament represents “all minus one”. Everybody will feel entitled to a seat in the coalition and it will be hard work to rein in the appetite for a portfolio.

The main Flemish radical opposition stands alone. It remains hostile to an agreement which ended up touching all aspects of the political, financial and institutional realities of this often absurd country. This does not mean that the current outsider will give up. Bart De Wever might be a gorilla in the corridors of power, but he remains also a force to reckon with. For now the foil did override the bull, for how long? Some deeper fault lines continue to exist. It remains to be seen if we are witnessing closure or a cease-fire. That eight parties from North and South could agree is nevertheless a positive step. The absent partner represents a menace insofar as he will go for the higher bid, feeling frustrated, offside. He will obviously try to divide and set his populist appeal in overdrive. The economic/social slump does not appeal to classical politicians who remain tuned to more globalised themes. It will be difficult to satisfy both basic necessities (bread and butter/the welfare state), and the more lofty challenges which derive from often contradictory globalised political, financial or military emergencies. The past crisis showed how wide the distance is which separates populist politicians from what Bart de Wever calls the addiction to “cosmopolitism”.

The provisional(?) end of the “Belgium fatigue” is a relief, both for the country, for the European Union and for the Euro Zone. The personality of Elio de Rupo, if confirmed, will sooner rather than later put his mark on the workings of the European Council. He is not the type of politician who favors subtitles. He must avoid becoming bored in the Belgian ghetto, which will not fade away. He has tried, successfully, to air and to detach it from its provincial instincts. The time for recovery has come. In the 50s, Belgium was Europe’s go–between. This a-typical, probable Belgian Prime Minister, with Italian DNA, should have the talent and the intellectual savoir-faire to renew this former tradition. Let us hope that the national trivia do not metastasize in the usual landmines, which have shredded too many ambitions and grand plans to pieces.

Belgium got its (last?) chance. This almost-failed State might still recover. Both King and Prime Minister, while being “strange bedfellows”, in Shakespeare’s words, are at the same time the right men to avoid the abyss.

They should not forget to pay attention to their rearview mirror.

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