Political Innovation of the Decade

Belgium and its Caretaker Government

Political Innovation of the Decadeby 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’.

Editor’s Note: If you live in France or Belgium, come here Braden Kelley speak about innovation next week at Innov@MIC – a free event in Mons, Belgium on 23 June 2011.

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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.

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3 Responses to Political Innovation of the Decade

  1. Absolutly true. I was recently at Belgium at a tourist, and the country live very OK day to day. But even it’s seem a ‘good experiment’, all people ask about the future, trying to especulate about new horizons Belgium must to travel to, because today nobody its talking about that. And in fact many others issues must be say when we try to understand this extrange case. For this beautiful country, I hope this experiment will have a good end.

  2. johan Vercruysse says:

    From Belgium with love: I’ve never lookep upon the caretaker government as an innovation, but it might well be worth it to study later what has happened. One thing i believe is true: no big posturing, no rivaling amongst participating parties. Next to that, quite important for democracy, more freedom for the parliament to do some work with the most notable example the swift decision of Belgium with regard to the Libya crisis.

    But everyone knows also that caretaking will not take care of the budget deficit which is 5 times the defense budget or more than half of health care budgets or pension budgets. Slashing such a deficit has been done successfully before in Belgium. The recipee is known and we have lived through it. But never by a caretaker government.

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