A general strike on the way in Belgium?

The formation of the new Belgian government received little publicity in Finland. The government took office in mid-October with Charles Michel from the French-speaking liberal party MR as its Prime Minister. The 39-year-old is a second-generation politician. His father Louis Michel was a Minister of Foreign Affairs, a Commissioner in the Barroso’s first Commission and at the moment a member of the European Parliament.

A centre-right coalition government includes the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), the Flemish Christian democrats (CD&V), the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD) and the French-speaking Liberals (MR). It is called the ’Swedish Coalition’ in reference to the flag of Sweden ‒ the colours of the parties are yellow and blue and the cross points to the Christian democrats.

Compared to the Belgium standards, the formation of the government was rather swift and took ’only’ five months. The nomination of previous Prime Minister Di Rupo lasted famously 541 days from the Election Day.

For the first time in 26 years, Belgium is led by a centre-right government, which does not include the socialists. The political change will be significant. The first aim of the government is to reach a budgetary balance in Belgium by 2018. The second goal is to postpone the retirement age from 65 to 67 years. In addition, a lot of ambitious reforms are planned to follow in the fields of security, justice and immigration. More competences will also be transferred from the federal state to the regions (Belgium is divided into three regions: Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia).

As soon as the new government was elected and its programme published, opposition parties and the trade unions reacted quickly. They called the programme antisocial and unfair. As a result, strikes were announced for the end of the year ‒ a major national demonstration in November in Brussels and a series of local strikes in other cities.

The 15th December will most probably be a day of general strike when the whole country will be economically paralyzed. Brussels is a ’capital’ of demonstrations but contrary to a common perception, general strikes are rather rare in Belgium. The latest ones were in 2011 and 1993. The one before those was in the 60s and it lasted a whole month!

 

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