Paul Magnette’s Rejection of the ‘Anti-Breakers’ Law: A Blow to Government Solidarity and the Left

2023-11-07 08:13:40

Paul Magnette ultimately rejects the “anti-breakers” law. A swipe of government solidarity. A blow to the left, while the position of the PS had gradually become untenable.

Badly shipped

This “anti-rioters” law, carried by former minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, included provisions aimed at punishing rioters during demonstrations, by providing for the possibility of prohibiting a person convicted of an offense from attending a “gathering protest” to participate in other demonstrations. From the start, this limitation on the freedom to demonstrate has been contested by the Human Rights League, Amnesty, Greenpeace, the unions and the FGTB in the lead, evoking a liberticidal law. Thierry Bodson, the president of the FGTB, made it a personal fight, publicly threatening the PS and Ecolo by telling them that there would be a before and after in the event of a vote. Understand, the FGTB would launch a campaign against the left-wing parties in government as the elections arrive.

The PS was getting worse and worse. He did request and obtain amendments to the text, but they did not calm things down, especially since the Council of State has just criticized the text quite severely.


This is not a complete turnaround, since the PS had already warned that certain elements posed problems for it. But there was definitely an agreement within the government. Agreement today crossed out in one go by Paul Magnette. To understand, we must remember that in the PS, this law was debated. It was supported in particular by the party’s municipalists, the mayors of large cities often faced with acts of vandalism during demonstrations. Philippe Close, in Brussels, was the plaintiff.

But since Thierry Bodson made it a personal fight, the PS was in great difficulty. His position, as we already wrote in June, had become untenable. Because the PS has not forgotten 2013. That year, a year before the elections, Thierry Bodson took exception to Elio Di Rupo, then Prime Minister, over the elimination of integration benefits for young unemployed people.

Thierry Bodson’s rebellion had undoubtedly cost the PS a few percent. The PTB had achieved its first two seats at the time.

Elio Di Rupo, something rare for him, had recognized his strategic error. On January 6, 2015, he uttered a famous contrition in “Matin Première”: “My heart bleeds when I think of these thousands of young people who cannot find a job and who are going to be excluded. Believe me, I can’t sleep“.

Risk calculation

Paul Magnette wanted to avoid also having “bleeding heart” syndrome. Paul Magnette could not take the risk of a repeat of the 2014 elections where the entire government record of the PS had been eclipsed by the elimination of integration allowances. With the PTB now at 12 seats, it was simply too risky.

This risks throwing a chill in Vivaldi. The MR is already threatening to block other agreements. It was already winter for Vivaldi, but we are undoubtedly now entering a period of political glaciation. The calculation of the PS is simple: certainly, it risks failing several files that it was still pushing, certainly, it risks being seen as a disloyal partner, certainly it risks weakening its partners (the VLD in Flanders) but the risk to enter the campaign against the FGTB in league with the PTB was considered even greater. It’s going to be a long winter for Vivaldi.

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