Essex Government expert advises Belgian Parliament

  • Date

    Wed 19 Apr 23

Professor Shane Martin

University of Essex Government expert Professor Shane Martin was recently asked to share his expertise on how to streamline the process of forming a government in Belgium.

After the 2019 federal election, Belgium took 494 days to form a government, which dominated the political landscape for over sixteen months.

In parliamentary democracies, the time it takes to form a government after a general election can vary significantly, with implications for governability and democratic accountability. In the United Kingdom, for example, a new government is often formed within a day of the general election.

Professor Martin recently addressed the Belgian Parliament's Committee on the Constitution and Institutional Renewal which is exploring ways to streamline the process of forming a government (prime minister and cabinet) after a general election and reduce the time it takes for a new government to take office.

In his presentation to the committee, he discussed the cultural, political, and institutional factors that influence the length of time it takes to form a government, and he proposed institutional and other reforms that could speed up the time it takes to form a government in the Belgian context.

Professor Martin, Dean of Postgraduate Research and Education, who holds the Anthony King Chair in Comparative Government, said: “My work aims to redesign institutions and rules and change behaviours to make it easier for governments to form.

“By conventional accounts, political parties have a real appetite for being in government. But the increasing electoral costs of governing - whereby incumbent governing parties suffer electorally at the next election – is causing some political parties to forgo joining a government – making it difficult to form a government in many parliamentary democracies.”

Other recent examples of post-election government formation duration include 21 days in Slovakia, 45 days in Estonia, 58 days in Spain, 139 days in Ireland, 171 days in Germany, and 225 days in the Netherlands.

Belgium represents an extreme case, with 494 days passing after the 2019 federal election before a government was confirmed, and 541 days after the 2011 election.

During these extended periods of government formation, "caretaker" governments may lack the constitutional authority or political legitimacy to govern effectively or make decisions, and the process of forming a government can dominate the political landscape, Professor Martin explained.

Politicians in Belgium are examining the causes of these delays, and Professor Martin was invited to share his insights on government formation in Belgium and elsewhere as an expert witness.