Belgium’s government loses majority over UN migration pact

Belgium’s government loses majority over UN migration pact

Prime minister Charles Michel says country could come to standstill in event of early elections

The Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, is fighting for his political survival after the Flemish nationalist party quit the ruling coalition over his support for a UN migration agreement, leaving him in charge of a minority government.

After the resignation of ministers representing the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), the largest of the coalition’s four parties, Michel was forced to present himself on Sunday to Belgium’s King Philippe.

Michel was given permission to form a minority administration but at a press conference later in the day he appealed to MPs in the federal parliament not to force an election.

Belgium is due to go to the polls in May, and with European elections also due that month, the prime minister insisted a change of government would drive the country to a standstill.

Michel said: “I want to enter into a dialogue with parliament: if there would be early elections, if it were the choice to push the government towards early elections, then we are in a situation that would block the country for a year.

“The personal relationships with the N-VA ministers will remain good, as far as I am concerned,” he added. “But there was a difference of opinion, and I regret that.”

The health minister, Maggie De Block, who will now also take on the migration portfolio, replacing the N-VA’s Theo Francken, said she had inherited a “mess” but that she would have a humane migration policy.

“I am taking on a department in crisis. It’s chaos,” De Block said in a statement.

Francken responded on Twitter that he had “no lessons to learn” in matters of humane treatment.

The N-VA’s leader, Bart De Wever, had warned Michel that his party would walk out on the coalition if the prime minister flew to a UN conference in Marrakesh on Sunday to endorse the UN migration pact.

“If we no longer have a voice in this government … there is no point in continuing,” De Wever said.

The non-binding UN agreement, which would promote a common global approach to migrant flows, was initially supported by all four parties in Belgium’s coalition, only to be later rejected by the N-VA.

Michel said on Sunday that the pact provided “the opportunity for better European and international cooperation”.

The French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Steve Bannon, a former adviser to the US president, Donald Trump, denounced the pact at an event hosted by the rightwing Flemish nationalist party, the Vlaams Belang, in Brussels on Saturday.

“The country that signs the pact obviously signs a pact with the devil,” Le Pen said.

The draft UN accord lays down 23 objectives to open up legal migration and better manage a global flow of 250 million people, 3% of the world population.

The US dropped out of talks on the pact last year and countries including Italy, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Australia have rejected it. The deal is expected to be ratified at the UN headquarters in New York on 19 December.

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