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Journal Res Publica x Year 2000 x Category Article x

    On October 8th 2000 municipal elections were held in Belgium to renew the local councils which had been elected in 1994. In the Walloon region and in Flanders in addition provincial elections were organised. The aim of the article is to try and measure globally where the political forces stand after these elections and among others to assess whether significant swings have take place since june 13th, 1999, when the latest parliamentary and regional elections took place. On the basis of an estimation of the global results in the municipal elections of the various parties in the Walloon region, in Flanders and in Brussels, backed up by the actual results of the provincial elections, one can say that the liberal group bas strengthened its first position. The Christian democrats, who make up the second most important political group and the Socialists, who rank third, have regained a large part of the losses they incurred onjune 13th, 1999. Although improving their results in comparison with 1994, the Green parties lost again part of their advance they registered in the parliamentary and regional elections and which had probably been boosted by the dioxin crisis. The frenchspeaking far right practically disappears, whereas the Vlaams Blok obtained an average of 15 % of the Flemish electorate in the municipal and provincial elections, a level which it had reached in the 1999 parliamentary elections.

William Fraeys

    Although parliamentary government is generally taken to be party government and party cohesion is acknowledged a key element thereof, it seems an accepted part of comparative parliamentary research that the effectiveness of parliaments and the level ofparty cohesion are negatively related. This is in part a remnant of the Anglo-American comparative studies that have dominated the discipline for a long time. Within reactive parliaments, this negative relation fails to materialise. Combining results from earlier research and original data, it is demonstrated that a high level ofparty cohesion does not prevent parliaments to be an effective, independent player in government formation, the recruitment of cabinet ministers or policy making. Comparing ten European parliaments, the more effective parliaments do encompass parliamentary parties with the highest level ofcohesion. A more crucial element isperhaps the characteristic of parliamentary parties as essentially oriented to the extra-parliamentary party or as a dominant element in the party-as-a-whole. Further research is however necessary.

Sam Depauw

    The Christian-democrat/socialist government Martens IV resigned at the end ofMarch 1981, because the socialist party could not agree with an urgency plan to reorganize the public finances. Mark Eyskens, Minister of Finance in that cabinet, put together a new government as soon as April 6 of the same year. He succeeded as Prime Minister while all the other resigning ministers remained in their function. Minister Robert Vandeputte, an extra-parlementarian and honorary governor of the Central Bank, became the new Minister of Finance. Like the preceding governments, the Eyskens cabinet was strongly hampered by deep mistrust between the coalition partners, opposing views between the two communities of Belgium and by disagreements about the way to deal with the socio-economic crisis. The Eyskens cabinet was particularly confronted with the organization of the restructured steelmill Cockerill-Sambre and with the absolute low point of the economic crisis. The budget was strongly affected by the increasing unemployment benefits and the collapse of the fiscal revenues. Due to the continuing protest of the trade unions, Mark Eyskens did not succeed to adapt the automatic wage indexation in order to improve the competitive position ofthe Belgian enterprises. He did however manage to prevent the devaluation of the Belgian franc, which had come under pressure regularly on the financial markets.By the middle of September 1981 the Eyskens government fell as a result of disagreements between the coalition partners about the financing ofthe money loosing steelmill Cockerill-Sambre in Wallonia. Parliamentary elections were advanced to November 8, 1981. The Christiandemocrats lost a considerable number of seats. A Christian-democrat/liberal cabinet, again headed by Wilfried Martens, emerged by mid December. It would carry out a neoliberal policy. Mark Eyskens became the Minister of Economicaffairs in the new government.

Aloïs Van De Voorde

    In the domain of survey research, it is well known and documented that the structure, wording, and context of questions may affect the distributions of the responses to choice questions. Surprisingly, the application of the knowledge about these effects is not often made in the domain of referendums. Only few studies deal with the effects of question characteristics in referendums, although in the field, there are many discussions about the results obtained by problematic questions. In this study, a number of wording effects that can be expected in referendums are discussed in the context of the actual state of theory and knowledge in the research on question wording effects in surveys. Some are well known and others are new, but also very relevant. The expected problems deal with: the choice between real alternatives; the decision about the majority in the case of multiple choice questions; the ambiguity in the choice between "yes" and "no"; the bidden response scale behind "yes-no" questions and the selection of the of verbs or qualifiers; the use of"double barrelled questions"; the suggestive wordings in the question text or in the introduction; the context of the questions when several questions are asked response sets. The importance and seriousness of each ofthese effects is evaluated, and reflections are made on the quality of the questions in referendums. Consequently suggestions are made about the kind of questions that can be used in referendums.

Jaak Billiet

Het parlementaire optreden van de eerste minister in België en Nederland

Een vergelijking tussen de regeringen Martens VIII, Dehaene I en Lubbers III

Journal Res Publica, Issue 4 2000
Authors Jo Noppe

    The relation between the constitutionally founded supremacy of the parliament and the authoriy of the Prime Minister (PM) based on common law, is of a great importance in the Low Countries. This relation constitutes the difference between parliamentary and presidential regimes. It is the PM's duty to take care of the permanent support ofthe parliamentary majority. This is not an easy exercise. Members of parliament are not always as positive about the PM's parliamentary performances. Characteristics of the parliamentary activity of the Belgian PM's Wilfried Martens, Jean-Luc Dehaene and the Dutch Ruud Lubbers are handled as: the frequency and the extent of the PM's parliamentary performances, the topics handled by the PM's in parliament, the PM's opponents in parliamentary debate and finally more generally the PM's parliamentary role behaviour. Due to the different position of both the parliament and the PM in the Belgian and the Dutch political system, the characteristics of the parliamenty activity of the Belgian and the Dutch PM are not always very similar. Additionally, remarkable differences occur between the parliamentary activity of different PM'swithin the same country.

Jo Noppe

Een partij op zoek naar haar plaats in de macht

De CVP-PSC tijdens de homogene regeringen (1950 - 1954)

Journal Res Publica, Issue 4 2000
Authors Wouter Beke

    Between 1950 and 1954 Belgium had a homogeneous catholic majority in Parliament. Theoretically this brings about a stable government, but in real term it caused a lot of trouble. The Christian People's Party changed its prime minister three times. Different reasons explain this attempt to further the particracy from a party one had not expected this. First, the outcome ofthe Royal Question creates a tension between the party and the government. The party can not fulfill its election promises. Second, the homogeneous majority is based on a heterogeneous party, where progressives and conservatives, Flemish and Walloon politicians determine the decision-making. Moreover, the party as such claims its position in the decision-making process. The parliamentary groups and the government are considered as executors ofa partyprogram and must thereforebe subordinated to the party. The process where parties expanded to the dominant actor in the political system, becomes clear.

Wouter Beke

    In various parliamentary democracies, institutional reformers have proposed to directly elect the prime minister, but it is only in Israel that this reform has been implemented. In this article, the Israeli model is compared to the proposals involving the direct election of the prime minister in France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. The analysis focuses on three crucial characteristics: the object of the election, the electoral system and the relationship between the assembly and the executive. It is shown that there is substantial variation among the models. Some of proposed models are close to the presidential idealtype. Other models combine a direct election of the executive with the possibility of censure by the assembly, and thus constitute a new regime type which can be labelled as 'neo-parliamentary'. The Israeli model belongs to this group, although it is atypical because of the investiture requirement. Finally, some models approach the parliamentary idealtype as they allow the assembly to replace the elected prime minister. White most models involve a concurrent but separate election of the prime minister and the assembly, it is argued that a linked election offers better possibilities to bring about an executive majority in the assembly.

Bart Maddens

Mark Deweerdt

Belgian politics in 1999

Journal Res Publica, Issue 2-3 2000
Authors Stefaan Fiers and Mark Deweerdt

Stefaan Fiers

Mark Deweerdt

Politieke statistiek in België

Oproep bij het einde van 170 jaar België

Journal Res Publica, Issue 2-3 2000
Authors Wilfried Dewachter

    The great promises that "Statistik" yielded in the 19th century in Belgium, did not materialise. At least as far as political statistics are concerned. In the second half of the 20th century the output was rather limited and thus very incomplete, not very professionally conceived and elaborated, disorderly provided, strongly related to an outrunned institutional approach and thus quite conservative in its orientation, veiled in inaccurate categories with the static view rather dominant. Therefore, starting from a global approach of the 3 P's (=polity, politics and policy), a rebuilding is necessary. This should provide for an inventory of existing statistical data and -above all -a masterplan to achieve a straightforward view on the 3 P's in Belgium: polity, politics and policy. A polyarchy has the right and the need to in depth information that is as complete as feasible. Statistics are very handy tools to provide this information to both policymakers and citizens.

Wilfried Dewachter

Editor Res Publica

    At 13 June 1999, elections for the regional Parliaments, the federal Parliament (both House of Representatives and Senate) and the European Parliament were held in Belgium. The percentage of voters casting a preferential vote at these elections increased again, reaching the highest score ever in Belgian history. On average, 60,9 % of the electorate expressed their preference for one or more candidates. Although voters have the possibility to cast a multiple preferential vote (i.e. a vote for several candidates figuring on the same party list), this possibility is not used very much. A voter who cast a preferential vote, only vote on average for 1,73 candidates. The further increase in preferential votes was a little surprise since strong limitations were imposed upon campaign expenditures and on commercial affichage. Political and social evolutions, such as individualism, anti-party feelings and mediatisation seem to have had a stronger impact upon preferential voting than these material limitations. The use of the preferential vote varies from one constituency to another, from Flemings to Walloons, and from one party to another. There were some notable evolutions. The voters of the extreme-right Vlaams Blok and of the green parties Agalev and Ecolo, who traditionally cast less preferential votes than voters of other parties, have dimished the gap between them and the other parties. Another important evolution is the decrease of pref erential voting in some constituencies in Wallonia. As for the Senate and the European Parliament, more Flemings now cast a preferential vote than Walloons do. The large constituencies used for these elections seem to attract very well-known politicians and as a consequence also very much preferential votes in Flanders. Despite the increase in preferential voting, the order of the list, composed by the party remained in most cases decisive whether or nota candidate was elected.

Jozef Smits

Bram Wauters

Peter Biondi

Mark Deweerdt

Van devaluatie tot euro

Het economische en meer bepaald het monetaire beleid van België 1980-2000

Journal Res Publica, Issue 1 2000
Authors Alfons Verplaetse

    This article on the evolution of economic and monetary policy in Belgium, which turned the "sick man of Europe" into one of the stronger European economies and allowed it to enter into EMU, stresses the role of the monetary authorities as a stabilising force in Belgium. It gives a detailed analysis of how these changes have allowed Belgium to regain the confidence of both monetary authorities and international investors after the devaluation of 1982. The policy responses to the oil shock at the beginning of the seventies broke with the policy mix which had until then been practised. Both the wage formation process andf iscal policy clearly spiralled out of control, the chiefresult of which was a drastic loss in international competitiveness. As a consequence, the current account showed a large deficit, the traditional level at which public deficit had stood rose dramatically, unemployment exploded and the financial structure of most corporations became fragile. A drastic realignment of economic policy started with the devaluation of the Belgian franc in 1982. This devaluation was accompanied by a series of measures aimed at preventing the inflationary pressures from triggering further devaluations, and hence at restoring credibility. These measures included restrictive fiscal policies (tax increases and cuts inpublic spending) and real wage cuts. By 1987 this recovery policy had successfully restored Belgian competitiveness, reduced the government deficit and restored the balance ofpayments equilibrium. Although public policies became less restrictive during the period 1988-1993, the central bank continued to gain international credibility. Significant stepsin this process were the abolition of the dual exchange rate system, the decision to peg the Belgian franc to the most stable currency in the ERM (i.e. the German mark) and the reform of the money markets in Belgium. The latter in particular helped to increase the central bank's independence, since this reform implied total control by the central bank over short term interest rates, it reduced significantly the automatic credit lines of the fiscal authorities with the central bank and it stipulated that revaluations of gold reserves should no langer be used to finance government budget deficits. By 1992 international credibility had been restored to such a degree that the Belgian franc became a strong currency during the 1992 crisis, obliging the central bank to come to the rescue of the weaker currencies under attack in September 1992 with a speculative inflow of capital of about 200 billion BEF. However this restored credibility continued to be fragile, as became evident during the 1993 exchange rate crisis when the Belgian franc was vigorously attacked by international speculation. The insufficient alignment of public and monetary policies proved to be at the heart of the financial problems of the 1993 crises. The Belgian government relaunched its policies of budgetary restriction and wage moderation, brought together in what was called the 'Global Plan'. This realignment of public policies to monetary policy swiftly restored the credibility of the Belgian franc, so that as early as January 1994 the Belgian franc converged to its central parity with an interest differential vis-à-vis the German mark of only about 2 %. This differential declined progressively. Indeed the global plan restored the confidence of the investors in Belgian economic policy. Financial markets now fully believed in the entry of Belgium into EMU and from then on no major difficulties were to arise.

Alfons Verplaetse

    The unique character of the socio-economic negociations in Belgium has lost much of its glamour and prestige during the last quarter of the 20th century. While before 1975, there was more or less agreement among the social partners to redistribute welfare to the whole society, after the first oil crisis employers tended to see themselves in competition with other employers, with the trade unions and with the state. Both employers' organisations as trade unions wanted to safeguard their own priorities, respectively the competitiveness of the enterprises and the system of indexation. As a consequence, it became very difficult to reach agreements and hence, there have been no or only very small interprofessional agreements signed since 1975. The role of the government in this period evolved from the role of host for the negociations to that of co-actor and finally to director. When no agreement was possible between the social partners, the govenrment itself took the initiative and both trade unions and employers' organisations tried to lobby the government rather than being partners in negociations. The measures of the government, especially those taken with extra-ordinary powers, were often beneficial for the employers. Despite the emphasis by the trade unions on employment, their efforts beared not much fruit. The first priority of both the government and the employers was the enhancement of the financial and the economic situation of the country. Since the interprofessional agreement of 1999-2000, a new period bas begun. Trade unions and employers' organisations are constrained by what happens in the rest of Europe. Between these constaints, they can negociate and conclude agreements on the basis of freedom and responsibility. The level of negociations shifted in this period from the interprofessional level to the level of the sector or even to the level of the enterprise. Another trend is the creation of an institutional framework for social talks on the Flemish level. The challenges for the future are the installation of a European or even an international world-wide institutional framework for social negociations and the development of themes as permanent education, quality of life and work and the enhancement of the socio-economic democracy.

Willy Peirens

Vice-Premiers en kernkabinetten

Een evaluatie van deze innovaties

Journal Res Publica, Issue 1 2000
Authors Willy Claes

    The function of Deputy Prime Minister is not specified in the Belgian Constitution, nevertheless it is imposed by force ofcustom. Since 1961, there have been in each government one or more Deputy Prime Ministers whether or not carrying the formal title. The Deputy Prime Minister was originally the number two in the government, behind the Prime Minister. Usually, he belongs to another party. Thanks to the competences attributed to him in the government, his position in his party and his natural authority and leadership, he tries, together with the prime minister, to manage the government in the right direction and to maintain the cohesion in the coalition. The Deputy Prime Minister is at the same time also in charge of a given ministry. The function of Deputy Prime Minister has become more important due to the increased influence of political parties within and upon the government. The Deputy Prime Minister acts now explicitly as spokesperson of his party within the government and defends the decisions of the government within his party. After the split of the national parties in a Flemish and a Walloon party and as consequence, the increase of parties in government, the number of Deputy Prime Ministers also increased. It became usual that each party in government had his own Deputy Prime Minister, even the party of the Prime Minister since the latter is considered to be politically neutral. Under the name of 'Cabinet for general affairs ', the 'kernkabinet' raised in1961 to handle all major problems and initiatives of the government. The 'kernkabinet' interpreted this rather vague description of its competences in a broad way. Its members were the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and some other senior ministers. Usually, an equilibrium on the basis of party- and language-affiliations was installed. In the second half of the 1970s, the role and the impact of the 'kernkabinet' increased gradually. The 'kernkabinet' had become a real decision-making institution, gathering several times a week. As a consequence, the role of the Council of Ministers on certain issues was degraded to merely ratify decisions taken by the 'kernkabinet'. Much critique was voiced on this evolution, especially upon the lack of transparency and efficiency. Although heavily criticized, the 'kernkabinet' has proved to be a very helpful instrument to take decisions on complex and delicate problems. In 1981, the 'kernkabinet' was formally abolished and in 1992, the Dehaene-government abolished all ministerial committees. Despite these abolitions, there was and still is nowadays the tendency to gather with the senior ministers to solve complex problems. De facto the kernkabinet holds strong.

Willy Claes

Hoe machtig is een minister?

De politicus in de netwerkmaatschappij

Journal Res Publica, Issue 1 2000
Authors Mark Eyskens

    Defining a minister's power is not an easy exercise. It bas to be put in a broader framework: a pluralistic democracy, that has respect for human rights and basic freedoms and a market economy that is developping towards a national border crossing competition and cooperation. But there are also some basic rules coming from national but also regional and supranational institutions. There nowadays exists a so called 'Gulliver-effect': the state represented by the governement is like a giant that is threatened by a lot of surrenders whoforce him towards a powerless existence. Although citizens often have the impression politics is capable of doing anything it wants to, policy makers more often have to cope with restrictions that obstruct them in their policy aims. At the beginning of the twenty-first century ministers are heavily counterbalanced by other institions. Trade unions, big lobby groups, administration, the cabinets, the party executive and party president, parliament and the media: they all threaten a minster's power. Also the rising power of regional and supranational decision levels makes the power of a politician decline. In the future, rising information and communication skills will not only change the character of politics but also that of modern society. The internet, the globalisation ofeconomy and other changes will transform politics in a fundamental way. Leadership, power and authority will change strongly and the relationship between the citizens and their authority will never be the same again.

Mark Eyskens

    The Volksunie, partly from the opposition and partly from its participation in cabinet/coalitions made an important contribution to the processes of state reforms that remodeled Belgium in the 80's and 90's into a federal state. The party strongly introduced the federalist ideas in the political arena. In the seventies it played a pro-active role in the negociations with the French interlocuteurs. Although these negociations did not succeed, the solutions advocated in that period went on as possible outcomes for later negociations and played a catalyst role. When taking part in the cabinets either the national and for the Flemish cabinets in the 80's and the 90's, its minister(s) advocated and carried on a maximalizing federalist policy. Inside and outside the party, it was not easy to perform this policy. Even the electorate did not reward the party that much for its achievements, which can be summarized as an undeniable contribution to the federal state reform of Belgium.

Hugo Schiltz

Het Parlement op het einde van de twintigste eeuw

Mogelijkheden en begrenzingen

Journal Res Publica, Issue 1 2000
Authors Frank Swaelen

    The Belgian constitutional system is based upon the classic principle of the trias politica, which means that there is a separation of powers, but also a balanced cooperation between them. This article focuses on the Belgian federal Parliament, which bas been, together with the reform of the state from a unitary to a federal state, radically reformed. The Belgian Parliament nowadays is much better equipped to fulfil the function of checks and balances than thirty years ago. The number of staff and the material equipment has increased considerably. At the same time, the emphasis in parliamentary activity bas shifted from the plenary session to the committees. The control upon the budget was long time a nearly empty box. Since the reform of 1989, it has become a much stronger instrument to hold the government to account. The annual debate on the budget is rather a genera/political evaluation of the government policy and is always ended by a vote of confidence. As for the law-making function, the share of the government in adopted laws is much higher than that of Parliament. Parliament bas still the power to amend government bills, but this power is limited because there is often already an agreement between the government and the parliamentary party of the coalition-parties. Nevertheless, several important amendments have been adopted in the last legislature. The control function bas evolved in different directions. Due to an enormous increase in the number of interpellations, they have lost a great part of their importance. They constitute no langer a real threaten to the survival of the government. On the other hand, there are more oral and written questions than before and the use of parliamentary inquiry committees has augmented considerably. Despite their inherent shortages, these committees play, an important role in preparing and correcting policy. The new challenges for Parliament in the future are serving as forum of the nation and the evaluation of laws. The core business of the trias politica, namely budgetary, law-making and controlling duties, also remain to befulfilled by Parliament.

Frank Swaelen
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