The Belgian government has lost its majority in Parliament after its biggest coalition partner, the right-wing Flemish party, left in opposition to the planned signing this month of an international agreement on migration.
Prime Minister Charles Michel, in announcing the end of his majority government during a news conference on Saturday, said, “One party, the N-VA, calls into question our common decision to join the U.N. migration pact, taken earlier this year in July.”
Mr. Michel said he would try to lead the remaining minority government to “ensure stability.”
On Sunday, he formalized the resignation of the five N-VA ministers from his government, appointing ministers from the remaining coalition partners in their place.
The political moves came amid demonstrations by about 1,000 people in Brussels, inspired by the “Yellow Vests” protests in neighboring France. While the world’s eyes are on France, similarly violent demonstrations have occurred in Brussels in the past two weekends, led by people who, analysts say, are angry with recent increases in fuel taxes and say that everyday life has become unaffordable.
On Saturday, protesters in Brussels clashed with the police, who used tear gas and water cannons. About 400 people were detained.
“We’re suffering. The bills are too high. I have no vacations, no luxury, just taxes, taxes, taxes,” said Ida Borremans, a cleaner who protested in Brussels on Saturday.
Laetitia Hallemans, a Belgian waitress who also took part in the demonstrations on Saturday, said the system was stacked against people like her. “The less you earn, the more you pay in taxes,” she said, sharing stories of older people going broke and hard-working friends unable to afford basic goods.
“We are trying to send a signal that we are listening,” said Georges Dallemagne, a member of the Belgian Parliament. “Of course, we do not accept the violence, but we have to listen to this population, which feels they are not being considered in government policies and government initiatives.”
Referring in part to the Yellow Vests, Peter De Roover, the leader of the N-VA faction in Parliament, said: “When I see the reactions over the past days, in all kinds of ways, I think that people are very concerned with the question of whether our borders can be protected or not.”
The revolt by the Flemish nationalists and the struggles of the Belgian Yellow Vests movement, analysts say, highlight how rising nationalism and populism in Europe are hampering international efforts to tackle global problems such as climate change and migration.
At least half a dozen countries in the European Union are debating whether to adopt the United Nation’s migration compact this coming week in Marrakesh, Morocco. Austria and Hungary, which both have far-right parties with strong anti-migrant views in their coalition governments, said this year that they were withdrawing from the agreement.
In announcing the loss of the Belgian government’s majority, the prime minister said, “As there is no consensus in the government to backtrack on our decision, a word is a word, this means that I will go to the international conference to defend our Belgian position.”
The United Nations agreement seeks to ensure rights are granted to migrants, but is not legally binding. It is part of an international negotiating process in anticipation of a formal signing at the United Nations headquarters in New York this month.
The agreement was initially approved in July by all member states of the international body, except for the United States. But in recent months, right-wing parties across Europe have toughened their stance on migration, leading several European Union governments to drop out.
The Belgian prime minister will go to Marrakesh to support the agreement, an act for which he ensured support from an alternative majority in Parliament. After that, experts say, it is not clear what the legitimacy of his minority government will be.