Could the UN Migration Pact cause the Belgian Government to fall?

Tension has continued to mount between the parties that form Belgium’s Federal Government. The bone of contention is the UN Migration Pact that is due to be signed in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh next Monday. The Flemish nationalists are vigorously opposed to the pact, while the three other parties that make up the federal coalition (the Flemish and Francophone liberals and the Flemish Christian democrats) are in favour of Belgian signing up to the pact. 

The tension has been ignited still further as the Flemish nationalists launched a campaign against the migration pact on social media (see below).

Experts nominated by parties from both the coalition and the opposition gave their interpretation of what signing up to the Migration Pact would mean before a special meeting of the Federal Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday. The diplomat Jean-Luc Bodson (photo below) who had represented Belgium at the negotiations for the UN Migration Pact also addressed the Select Committee. Mr Bodson said that “everything that Belgium had asked for had been included in the Pact”.      

However, some legal experts fear that “activists” among their colleagues could use the Migration Pact as a weapon to initiate long-drawn out legal proceedings to obtain leave to remain in Belgium for people that under the present rules would be denied it. This view is backed by the largest party in the federal coalition, the Flemish nationalist. The party launched a campaign against the pact on social media. The campaign was criticised by both the opposition and the nationalists’ partners in the Federal Government.     

The party fears that if Belgium signs up to the Migration pact illegal immigration would no longer be able to be sanctioned and that every immigrant would be given automatic access to social security and other provision from day 1.  Furthermore, the party believes that passages in the Pact that state that migrants should be allowed to retain their own culture would undermine efforts to integrate them into Flemish/Belgian society. The nationalists also refuse to accept country-specific side notes being added to allay some of their fears as they believe than in practice they wouldn’t be worth the paper they’re written on. 

Opinion is also divided on whether or not the Migration Pact would be legally binding.  The Flemish Christian democrats slammed the nationalists‘ social media campaign saying that you can’t on the one hand sit at the negotiating while at the same time be campaigning against the very thing you are negotiating about.  The Flemish greens called on the nationalists to end their campaign of hate.

At around 4pm the nationalists withdrew their campaign advertisements from social media.

Meanwhile, the Flemish liberals have suggested that the Federal Parliament could approve the Migration Pact with an alternative majority made up of MPs from parties from the coalition (but without the Flemish nationalists) and the opposition.

However, the question on everyone’s lips is whether a compromise can still be found between the four coalition parties. A cabinet meeting has already been postponed to allow the Prime Minister Charles Michel time to continue bilateral talks with the coalition parties.