Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel resigned from his post on Tuesday after losing the backing of his main coalition partner for signing the UN migration deal in Marrakesh last week.
The right-wing, nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) quit Michel’s coalition after the prime minister attempted to secure the support of parliament for the new UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The first UN deal of its kind, the pact promotes a global approach to migration flows, but “reaffirms the sovereign rights of states to determine their national migration policy” and asserts the “fundamental” importance of legal migration.
However the largest party in the coalition, N-VA claimed that signing the non-binding agreement would lead to more migrants entering the country, which would impact the availability of jobs and the provision of public services.
After signing the deal, Michel attempted to relaunch his government as a minority administration, but faced growing pressure from opposition parties as well as public protests against the UN accord.
Some 5,500 people attended an N-VA march Sunday in Brussels to protest the pact, outnumbering a smaller demo of around 1,000 people in support of the deal. Many of the protesters shouted racist, xenophobic and anti-Muslim slogans, with several clashes breaking out as police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse rioters.
Michel took office in 2014 aged only 38, becoming Belgian’s youngest prime minister since 1841, and previously defended the Marrakesh migration pact, saying it presented an “opportunity for better European and international co-operation”.
Legislators applauded as he announced his resignation yesterday and left directly from parliament to inform Belgian King Philippe of his decision. It is unclear whether the King will accept Michel’s exit; he could be invited to lead a caretaker government until an election can be held.
Belgium’s UN ambassador made it clear that the signing of the accord would go ahead in New York, despite Michel’s decision to tender his resignation.
The UN migration pact was agreed in July by all 193 members except the United States, but only 164 formally signed it at the meeting on 10 December. Since the text was finalised, it has been rejected or criticised by Australia, Israel, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Latvia and the Dominican Republic, some of whom did not attend the conference last week in protest.
Migration continues to be a contentious topic in Europe, with governments attempting to enact harsher regulations to prevent refugees and displaced people entering the continent, and putting pressure on North African countries to keep migrants from crossing the border illegally.
Whilst according to international law refugees cannot be returned to a place where their lives are in danger, some European states have attempted to send migrants back to transit hotspots such as Libya, despite the risk of them facing abuse, slavery and human trafficking.