Are current events viewed differently in the north and south of the country? We try to answer that question in our weekly chronicle by Alain Narinx (L’Echo) and Wim Van de Velden (De Tijd), which is published simultaneously in L’Echo and De Tijd.
If everything had gone according to plan, I would have reported here on the New Year’s reception for the appointed bodies in the royal palace. At the end of January, Belgium’s finest – the people who hold the highest positions in the country – traditionally descend on the palace to listen to the best wishes of King Philippe and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) and raise a glass. here’s to the new year and conkelfoesen that it is a delight.
The farmers thought differently. On Tuesday, before dawn, they blocked the Antwerp ring road near the Sportpaleis with their tractors and set wooden pallets on fire. The meter-high plumes of black smoke were a signal to avoid the ring, while law enforcement called on local residents to keep windows and doors closed.
Anyone who presents policy proposals for farmers during the election campaign is in danger of being asked the same question again and again: ‘And why have you done nothing about this in recent years?’
I was able to follow it live on Radio 1, while I was stuck in a traffic jam on the Bredabaan with my fossil company car – which fortunately will not become much more expensive this year, with respect for Minister of Finance Vincent Van Peteghem (CD&V). I heard how Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) urged the farmers in a friendly but compelling manner to always and everywhere give the emergency services free passage.
That was immediately the most critical political voice that day for the farmers, because suddenly all politicians and political parties seem to be on the side of the farmers, while they are not happy with the Flemish nitrogen policy that the Flemish coalition partners N-VA, CD&V and Open VLD have drawn up. They see it as the death knell for the farming industry in Flanders.
How credible is it that political parties are suddenly standing up for the farmers? No one seemed to care much about the fact that they were increasingly in dire straits. It is only after the farmers have taken tough action – in their own country, first in Wallonia, then also in Flanders – that they are listened to in the Wetstraat. If the farmers continue with their blockades, the economic damage threatens to be high, according to the employers’ organizations.
The farmers’ protest once again illustrates the problem of politics: that it has lost its credibility. Anyone who presents policy proposals during the election campaign is in danger of being asked the same question again and again: ‘And why have you done nothing about this in recent years?’ Almost all parties – with the exception of Vlaams Belang and the PVDA – have been in power at some point. Compromise after compromise, their credibility has eroded.
Les Engagés prove that an opposition cure may be a way to rebuild some credibility after years of policy participation.
That is why the case of Les Engagés, which you talked about in your previous column, Alain, is fascinating. The descendants of the French-speaking Christian Democrats seemed like a bird to the cat, after years of being stuck – scotch, as it sounds nice in French – had lost their individuality to the PS. But after a bout of opposition, Les Engagés seem to be making a comeback.
While policy parties are terrified of being referred to the opposition benches, Les Engagés prove that such an opposition cure may be a way to rebuild some credibility after years of policy participation. Although an opposition cure is not a solution for all policy parties, because how should governments be formed?
It’s taking me down a particularly slippery path. If the voter votes out the policy parties on June 9 with a raised middle finger and chooses the extremes, shouldn’t Vlaams Belang and the PVDA be dragged into the pool? Or is that a ‘fausse bonne idea’?