Belgian PM Charles Michel announces resignation over UN migration pact
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has announced his resignation, less than two weeks after his main coalition partner quit in a row over migration, leaving him leading a minority government. Michel, who took office in 2014, lost the backing of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) over his support for the UN migration pact, a cause célèbre for European anti-immigration parties. Read more.
His yesterday's resignation comes two days after demonstrations against the pact descended into scuffles in central Brussels, with police being forced to use tear gas and water cannon to restore order. After a debate in Parliament where opposition parties refused to lend their support to keep his government working until legislative elections in May next year, Michel announced he would quit.
"I have taken the decision to submit my resignation and it is my intention to go to see the king immediately," Michel said, jumping before lawmakers could push him with a motion of no confidence. Afterwards, King Philippe received Michel but he will hold consultations before deciding whether to accept his resignation, the palace said in a statement.
Agriculture Minister Denis Ducarne of Michel's liberal MR-party criticized left-wing and green-parties for risking "crisis for our country" instead of cooperating. The Flemish nationalist N-VA, led by powerful Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever, had made political-demands which Michel judged "unacceptable", notably on possible constitutional changes.
The liberal premier has steadfastly defended the Marrakesh migration pact, saying it presented an "opportunity for better European and international cooperation." The non-binding UN accord was initially supported by all four parties in Belgium's coalition. But the N-VA changed its mind in late October and pulled out of the coalition the day before Michel flew to Morocco to sign the deal.
Belgium has a history of division between wealthier Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and the declining French-speaking former industrial heartland of Wallonia in the south. This has contributed to political instability, and Belgium holds the modern European record for going the longest time without a government, a whopping 541 days in 2010-2011.
But Michel had so far held together a delicate four-way coalition involving liberals, Flemish Christian Democrats and the nationalist N-VA, which eventually wants a separate homeland in Flanders. Michel, who will turn 43 this Friday, was the kingdom's youngest head of government since 1840.