“I’m going to Marrakech, but I’ll respect the constitution”

PM Charles Michel has addressed the Belgian Parliament at the end of a debate on a resolution in support of the UN Global Compact on Migration.

Mr Michel told lawmakers that he would attend the UN gathering in Morocco to represent the views of the Belgian Parliament: “I’m the PM and I’m going to Marrakech because I don’t want an empty chair.  As PM I realise the constitution isn’t a scrap of paper.  I will have to ensure I defend my view in cabinet.”

Commentators suggest that Mr Michel’s words have bought him time and that the door has not been slammed in the face of the Flemish nationalists. The government is still in office and the Flemish nationalists have not walked out.

Government parties are divided on the issue that is causing a headache for Belgian Premier Charles Michel.  The governing Flemish nationalists oppose the resolution that should be adopted with votes from opposition MPs.  The three other government parties, Francophone and Flemish liberals and Flemish Christian democrats are in favour.

The row puts in question the position of Flemish nationalist ministers in the federal government.

In the debate preceding the vote on a resolution on the UN's Global Compact on Migration the governing Flemish nationalist N-VA claimed it was totally unclear what the vote was about because only the government could decide to sign the compact: "Parliament has no powers in this respect N-VA floor leader Peter De Roover said.  Mr De Roover asked the Prime Minister to state clearly whether on Monday he would make it clear that there is no consensus on the global compact in the Belgian government and cannot approve the compact.

The governing Flemish Christian democrats gave PM Michel a mandate to sign up to the compact in Marrakech on Monday and later in the month in New York.  The party insists that the PM would be acting on behalf of the government and of Belgium. Flemish Christian democrat leader Wouter Beke rejected claims that the compact had never been discussed at political level pointing to the support the Flemish nationalist asylum secretary had given the compact in parliament in April.  The same goes for the Belgian foreign minister.

For the Flemish liberals the government has already decided to approve the compact: those wanting to reverse this decision should draw their own conclusions: accept the fact or pull out of the government.