Belgian prime minister resigns over migration pact

Belgian prime minister resigns over migration pact

Charles Michel lost support of key coalition partner, the nationalist New Flemish Alliance, when backing UN bid to improve coordination on migrants

In this file photo taken on November 17, 2017, Belgium's then-prime minister Charles Michel walks to a luncheon during the European Social Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP)
In this file photo taken on November 17, 2017, Belgium's then-prime minister Charles Michel walks to a luncheon during the European Social Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel announced his resignation Tuesday, less than two weeks after his main coalition partner quit in a row over migration, leaving him leading a minority government.

Michel, who took office in 2014, lost the backing of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) over his support for the UN migration pact, a cause celebre for European anti-immigration parties.

The resignation comes two days after demonstrations against the pact in central Brussels descended into scuffles, with police forced to use tear gas and water cannons to restore order.

After a debate in parliament where opposition parties refused to lend their support to keep his government working until legislative elections in May next year, Michel announced he would quit.

“I have taken the decision to submit my resignation and it is my intention to go to see the king immediately,” Michel said, jumping before lawmakers could push him with a motion of no confidence.

Afterwards, King Philippe received Michel but will hold consultations before deciding whether to accept his resignation, the palace said in a statement.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, center, arrives at the Royal Castle of Laeken, Brussels, to offer the resignation of his government to King Philippe of Belgium on the evening of December 18, 2018. (Thierry Roge/Belga/AFP)

Agriculture Minister Denis Ducarne of Michel’s liberal MR party criticized left-wing and green parties for risking “paralysis and crisis for our country” instead of cooperating.

The Flemish nationalist N-VA, led by powerful Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever, had made political demands which Michel judged “unacceptable” — notably on possible constitutional changes.

The liberal premier has steadfastly defended the Marrakesh migration pact, saying it presented an “opportunity for better European and international cooperation.”

The non-binding UN accord, which would promote a common global approach to migrant flows, was initially supported by all four parties in Belgium’s coalition.

But the N-VA changed its mind in late October and pulled out of the coalition the day before Michel flew to Morocco to sign the deal.

Belgium has a history of division between wealthier Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and the run-down French-speaking former industrial heartland of Wallonia in the south.

This has contributed to political instability, and Belgium holds the modern European record for going the longest time without a government, a whopping 541 days in 2010-2011.

But Michel had so far held together a delicate four-way coalition involving liberals, Flemish Christian Democrats and the nationalist N-VA, which eventually wants a separate homeland in Flanders.

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