Belgium and its Caretaker Government
by Yann Cramer
A year ago, thanks to its inability to form a government, Belgium became the laughing stock of political commentators. Today, nobody is laughing, not only because the media circus has moved on, but also, more interestingly, because what started as a political accident, may well turn out to be a successful political experiment.
While other European nations with ‘proper’ governments have descended into economic chaos, Belgium’s so-called ‘caretaker’ government has managed to cut the country debt level and reduce the cost of borrowing. In the absence of what a proper government would typically label ‘a clear mandate’ that satisfies primarily its ego and partisan interests, the care-taker government has been forced to steer away from political posturing and grand programmes, whether spending programme or cutting programme! As a result, it has run the economy more efficiently than most, shedding new light on the concept of care-taker. After all, why should governments be care-taking only during short-term changes of majority? The business of government is to take care, not just during transitions, but permanently.
Belgium’s low level of central power has also delivered results. Thanks to a highly devolved administration, essential services including education have run normally. Such devolution has been implemented long ago; it is not a benefit of the political crisis, but it has proved its worth by creating resilience through tough times. Meanwhile, the state has focused on a small number of international obligations, such as holding the rotating European presidency for the scheduled half-year, in a quiet but effective manner.
Thomas Jefferson once said ‘I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.’ The Belgian political experiment that may become the political innovation of the decade if results obtained so far prove sustainable, could therefore be defined as ‘low-power permanent care-taker government’.
Yann Cramer is an innovation learner, practitioner, sharer, teacher. He’s lived in France, Belgium and the UK, he’s travelled six continents to create development opportunities with customers or suppliers, and run workshops on R&D and Marketing. He writes on www.innovToday.com and on twitter @innovToday.