What remains of the Jambon government can only go into current affairs. And that is especially good for CD&V

Heavy party and majority discipline ensure that normally nothing unexpected happens in the Flemish Parliament. That will be completely different on Tuesday. At 2 p.m., the ministers will come to explain the complete impasse in the nitrogen dossier. Unlike other debates, there is no agreement to spare each other. “Jan Jambon will kick-start the debate. I hold my breath for what happens next. Jo Brouns and Zuhal Demir will show no mercy to each other,” predicts a government source.

It will therefore be an unprecedented boiling point of an equally unprecedented political crisis within a Flemish government. The water between CD&V and N-VA, between Brouns and Demir, between agriculture and the environment/industry, has turned out to be too deep. At CD&V they still claim that they want to talk further. But that is a communication trick so as not to be blamed yourself. Everyone has basically given up hope of a negotiated outcome. Also with the other parties. “There can be no further discussion,” says a senior N-VA member. “It would be irresponsible to go back to the last text now.” At Open Vld they even say that there has been hardly any contact with CD&V. “We have the impression that she no longer wants to make an agreement.”


However, all the elements for an agreement were on the table. Twelve of the thirteen bottlenecks had been eliminated. The nitrogen bath would drain considerably, nature reserves could recover in the long term. But CD&V absolutely wants industry and agriculture to be treated on an equal footing, so that nothing stands in the way of young farmers who want to expand their farms. That is not possible for Demir and N-VA. Yesterday, the party sent around the concept note with Jambon’s latest proposal. Open Vld deputy Bart Somers agreed with that text, although its chairman Egbert Lachaert regrets that N-VA is immediately going to parliament with it. After all, constitutional specialists point out that the Flemish government must always decide by consensus. The concept note therefore has no legal value whatsoever.

But N-VA wants CD&V to show its colors through parliament. “On Monday morning there was a party board meeting. There the question was asked whether Bart De Wever should not even sit down with Jeremie Vaneeckhout and Conner Rousseau,” says an N-VA source. The party is now looking at Groen and Vooruit to make a nitrogen agreement. Both parties have already left an opening for this, although it was based on the original agreement of last year. It remains to be seen how enthusiastic they are about the new text. In any case, an alternating majority for the nitrogen dossier would still require a great deal of massaging work. One big problem: Open Vld does not want such a switch majority at all and thwarts the N-VA strategy. Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) yesterday dismissed the track as “complete fiction”. The liberals are afraid that their own trophies will disappear from the text.

Deceleration maneuvers

Incidentally, at CD&V they are not at all afraid of such a switch majority. Even if N-VA succeeds in crossing the bridge to the opposition, there are endless delay maneuvers possible in parliament. Those who are against a certain proposal can submit amendments and have them submitted to the Council of State. A cynical reading is that the file can be lifted beyond the elections anyway. The option of the switch majority is therefore not as obvious as it seems. Not for one dossier like nitrogen, certainly not for an alternative government. Both Groen and Vooruit do not want to break down the government after just one year of the elections.

The question remains what will happen to Jan Jambon’s government. Will the CD&V ministers remain in it or not? Various N-VA sources hope that they will keep the honor to themselves once it becomes clear that they have a different opinion. But the Christian Democrats would rather die. “Why should we leave the government?”, it sounds combative at a party leader. “We want a good nitrogen framework for agriculture. N-VA is the largest party and has the head of government. They just have to figure out a solution.” Internally, the analysis is made that being in the opposition for another year will not bring them much. “It is difficult for us to oppose our own coalition agreement.”

Heels in the sand

cd&v will therefore not leave themselves, and they cannot be forced to leave by the N-VA. Jambon cannot ask for the resignation of his ministers. The N-VA can submit a motion of no confidence in parliament against a certain minister or ministers, but for that they must immediately find an agreement with the opposition on the appointment of a new minister. “There is no way that that will work,” says an Open Vld topper. “The reality is that we will have to continue with CD&V until the end.” Other options – a minority cabinet, for example – require support from the opposition. Again, not very realistic.

The Christian Democrats know this all too well. The scenarios have already been thoroughly discussed in the night from Sunday to Monday. The realization that the Flemish government cannot continue without them, allows them to dig their heels in so heavily. If N-VA still bends on nitrogen – which they are not going to do – they have won. If the Flemish nationalists do not do that, the file may be lifted over the elections. And for CD&V it is comfortable to attract voters with the theme of ‘agriculture’. At the same time, the scenario in which they are expelled from government is almost unthinkable. The fact that the residual government will not be able to achieve anything for the rest will be a shame to them. “CD&V is in a chair,” concludes a government source. “But with this strategy they have made Flanders completely ungovernable.”

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