The Low Countries run into populist chaos

Last Friday, both in Belgium and the Netherlands the cabinet formation process has gone on the rocks. There was a time difference of just one hour. In Belgium, Wallonian Parti Socialiste-politician Elio Di Rupo gave up his task of forming a Belgian cabinet at 17.00 p.m.; in the Netherlands it was Geert Wilders who at 18.00 p.m. unplugged the plug out of the government cooperation project with the conservative-liberal VVD and christian-democrat CDA. Both countries, which had their parliamentary elections almost three months ago, are now back to square one. The coalition game will start all over again. Be glad not to be the Dutch queen or the Belgian king!

Le Monde commented that the Low Countries suffer from ‘’the disease of populism’’, and something is right about that. Both in Belgium and the Netherlands, an attempt was made to form a coalition between establishment parties at one hand and anti-establishment populist parties at the other, the Freedoms party of Geert Wilders, respectively the Flemish-nationalist N-VA-party of Bart De Wever. These attempts failed dramatically, at the expense of the established parties. The Dutch CDA nearly collapsed because of an intra-party conflict between a pro-Wilders wing and an anti-Wilders camp.

Time will teach us, if and how the traditional party political systems and government formation patterns can survive the plague of populism. Small countries frequently act as a barometer for future social and political developments, so the chaos of the Belgian and Dutch cabinet formation may be a warning message for Europe as a whole.