Ruling Coalition in Belgium Risks Alienating French-Speakers

Ruling Coalition in Belgium Risks Alienating French-Speakers
Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel, left, takes the oath during a swearing-in ceremony with Belgian King Philippe at the Royal Palace in Brussels, Sept. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Yves Logghe).

On Oct. 11, Belgium’s King Philippe swore in the country’s new government after nearly five months of negotiations. Led by Prime Minister Charles Michel of the fiscally conservative Walloon Reformist Movement (MR), the four-party coalition government also includes three Flemish parties: the Christian Democratic CD&V, the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Open VLD) and the nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA).

Belgium is known for its complicated politics, thanks in large part to its linguistic divisions. Flanders, in the north of the country, is home to 60 percent of the population and is Dutch-speaking. Wallonia, in the south, is home to 30 percent of the population and is French-speaking. Brussels, the capital, is bilingual, and there is also a small German-speaking minority in the east. That diversity has long been represented in mixed governments. But the new government’s unequal linguistic representation—and the presence of the hardline nationalist N-VA, which advocates for Flanders’ eventual secession from Belgium—has raised questions about the government’s ability to fairly represent both regions.

After the previous general election in 2010, it took 541 days to form a government, owing to the contentious issue of dividing the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde region into two electoral districts. This time around, the five months of negotiations were relatively quick.

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