Will Bart De Wever make his first (official) bid for the premiership in the 2024 elections: yes or no? N-VA will be considering that one million question from Wednesday evening.
If we have to bet our money now, we will do so on the scenario in which Bart De Wever will soon be appointed Antwerp’s party leader for the House. But whether he will immediately present himself as a candidate prime minister is another story. In any case, we will have to wait until December for confirmation. The N-VA national electoral college will meet for the first time on Wednesday evening.
What is certain: N-VA wants to make a difference with Vivaldi in the elections, especially in the field of right-wing socio-economic themes. In its so-called pre-campaign, the party therefore emphasizes a balanced budget, fair social policy, low taxes and investments in innovation. As chairman and ultimate figurehead, De Wever seems to be the logical embodiment of that message. An impression that is reinforced by the fact that he himself speaks in the video that accompanies the pre-campaign.
But whether De Wever will officially come out as a candidate prime minister in 2024 in this scenario is something else. In the past, as federal leader in 2014, he has always remained ‘strategically vague’ about this. Also because a tricolor job such as the premiership is still sensitive on his Flemish flank. In 2014, De Wever was therefore a kind of candidate prime minister with long teeth. “The voter decides everything,” he said. A quote from earlier this year: “I only want to become prime minister if it helps to reform the country.”
The list of candidate prime ministers for 2024 is short for the time being. Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) says he wants to continue if the election results allow him to do so. PS chairman Paul Magnette is also excited. If the Socialists soon form the largest political family in the House, he has a good chance. It is not impossible that De Wever will then give him the final push, in exchange for confederal concessions.
De Wever himself has already stood on the doorstep of the Sixteen twice. In 2014, when Michel I was formed, he quickly renounced the premiership in order not to annoy his only French-speaking partner MR. Through a political carom, the job ended up with Charles Michel (MR) on the last night of the formation. In 2020, at the start of the corona crisis, De Wever raised his hand behind the scenes for the premiership in a one-year emergency government with PS. That construction turned out to be unviable.
In the scenario in which De Wever comes to the top of the Antwerp Chamber list, Jan Jambon seems to be the logical Flemish number one. He must then defend his record as Prime Minister. After the European exit of Geert Bourgeois in 2019, now also to thank Jambon for services rendered after just one board term, which seems difficult. And it is at odds with the message that Flanders is well governed.
Difficult is not impossible. Even in the yellow-black ranks, the conclusion remains that Jan Jambon has not been able to live up to expectations as Prime Minister. And although there are explanations for this, such as a difficult start due to the corona crisis, it remains a major problem for N-VA. The Flemish nationalist party has now been able to provide an ‘MP’ twice. Twice without much success.
It is therefore possible that De Wever sees a Flemish leading role for himself. As the man who finally gives concrete shape to the confederal thesis – Flanders works and Belgium does not. To this day, many Flemish nationalists still complain about the course of the formation in 2019. This concerns the ‘Vivaldi betrayal’ by Open Vld. But also because of their own mistake in not demanding federal guarantees from Open Vld and CD&V when Jambon I was formed as the largest Flemish party.
For 2024, N-VA appears to be firmly planning to move to the Flemish government only when it is also federally clear what the government will look like. But this position of power is closely related to Flanders’ own electoral score. Unfortunately for N-VA: Vlaams Belang is in the lead in the polls and Vooruit is quite close as the first pursuer. So there is something to be said for the fact that the most important battle will soon be fought in Flanders. (Vlaams Belang chairman Tom Van Grieken is also on the Flemish list in Antwerp.)
De Wever has never been an outspoken candidate for prime minister. But he was already a candidate prime minister in 2019. His announcement at the time: “I cannot sit in my town hall and say: guys, just look at it. Everyone must go to the front at the elections. Everyone. The strength of the wolf is in the pack.”
The official story behind that failed candidacy was that after the 2019 elections, De Wever realized that, as chairman and most experienced negotiator within his party, he was needed to try the impossible at the federal level: forming a yellow-red coalition with PS. Something he ultimately failed to achieve and caused him to withdraw to Antwerp. The unofficial story was that De Wever’s candidacy was a big sham: N-VA founder Bourgeois only wanted to step aside for him.
As far as Antwerp is concerned, it remains an open question whether De Wever wants to leave the mayoralty in his home city for a job in Wetstraat. Some colleagues are convinced that will never happen. Certainly not now that he can run for his third term in October 2024. In any case, De Wever has said several times that he prefers to exercise his power in the shadows. Because it yields best there.
N-VA puzzle seems almost finished, except in Antwerp
In West Flanders, Jean-Marie Dedecker (federal) and Sander Loones (Flemish) have their turn. In East Flanders it may be up to Anneleen Van Bossuyt (federal) and Matthias Diependaele (Flemish). In Flemish Brabant, Theo Francken (federal) and Ben Weyts (Flemish) are the familiar names. In Limburg it is up to Steven Vandeput (federal) and Zuhal Demir (Flemish). For Europe, current EU parliamentarians Johan Van Overtveldt and Assita Kanko have the best chances for the highest places. Unless Jambon moves. In any case, a surprise is never excluded.