08:30 GMT30 November 2020
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    Belgium: Populist Rumblings in the Heart of the EU

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    The collapse of Belgium’s ruling coalition and subsequent creation of a minority government comes amidst controversy over the UN Migration Pact and the spread of “Yellow Vest” protests to the country.

    The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) broke with its coalition allies over Prime Minister Charles Michel's decision to commit Belgium to the politically binding pact, which has become increasingly contentious over the past weeks as right-wing governments in Europe withdrew from the agreement that all UN member states other than the US provisionally agreed to over the summer. The symbolism of what just happened can't be overstated because the country that hosts the EU's headquarters is now embroiled in a political crisis over an issue that's dear to the hearts of most Europhiles.

    Interestingly, the N-VA's decision to pull out of the government occurred right after Brussels was rocked by rowdy "Yellow Vest" protests, which while seemingly separate from the raging debate over the UN Migration Pact and driven instead by discontent over the rising cost of living might nevertheless be portrayed as interconnected by political forces who have an interest in putting maximum pressure on Brussels at this sensitive time. The protesters were demanding the government's resignation ahead of national elections next May, which will be held on the same date as the ones for the European Parliament, and they might be inspired to continue their street demonstrations into the coming weeks after the N-VA withdrew from the ruling coalition and Prime Minister Michel ruled out early elections.

    These latest developments are especially significant for the EU for reasons that go beyond their populist symbolism because the N-VA is a secessionist organization that advocates the eventual creation of an independent state for the northern Belgian region of Flanders, something that's long been discussed and which could further undermine European unity following Brexit and the Spanish political crisis in Catalonia if it ever happens. The EU's never been more vulnerable than it is today, given the two aforementioned challenges and the overall centrifugal trend of decentralization being promoted by right-wing governments in Eastern, Central, and even Southern Europe nowadays, so the current turmoil in Belgium could be too tempting of an opportunity for the so-called "Euroskeptics" in the continent to pass up and not try to exploit. 

    Andrew Korybko is joined by Koen Van Dessel, Belgian activist from the #istandwithrussia campaign, and Brecht Jonkers, historian and journalist.

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    populist paries, New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), Charles Michel, EU, Belgium
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