Conner Rousseau is taking a serious risk

What’s wrong with the socialists?

“Party chairman Conner Rousseau is making a remarkable personnel change. Federal Minister Meryame Kitir will not return as Minister of Development Cooperation and Urban Policy after her sick leave. Her task will be taken over by former party chairwoman Caroline Gennez, who will take the oath before the king at 6.30 pm tonight.”

“The direct cause is the investigation into psychosocial well-being at Kitir’s cabinet, which took place at the end of October forced to step aside as minister under pressure from Rousseau. Kitir supposedly needed a rest period, but soon they dived stories about struggles and collisions in her cabinet. Several cabinet employees had left in a short time. To avert the crisis, the party hired an external confidential adviser who would conduct an investigation into the psychosocial well-being at the cabinet.”

“This report ended up on the desk of Deputy Prime Minister Frank Vandenbroucke on Friday evening, who concluded that it was no longer possible to restore working relations in the cabinet in the current circumstances. On Saturday morning, Vandenbroucke, Rousseau and Kitir tied the knot together. Although it must be said that Kitir had little choice: the decision of the party leadership had already been made.”

Is this a surprise?

“Kitir’s departure is not. When the Limburger went on sick leave, party chairman Rousseau emphasized that it was not the intention to put her aside for good. But within the party, frustration with Kitir had long been brewing. She was not visible enough and failed to step out of Vandenbroucke’s shadow. In the run-up to the 2024 election battle, this is a serious handicap, all the more so because Kitir has to compete against N-VA heavyweight Zuhal Demir in Limburg. In terms of policy, the list of achievements also turned out to be Development Cooperation and Urban Policy. Too pale.”

“The arrival of Caroline Gennez is a big surprise from the chef. Until now, mainly the name of party leader Melissa Depraetere fell as a possible replacement. Gennez was chairman of Vooruit from 2007 to 2011 (then sp.a, ADB). Afterwards she let slip that she would not say no to ‘a nice ministerial portfolio’, but it never came to that. In recent years she had faded somewhat as a Flemish Member of Parliament. She also said goodbye to active politics in Mechelen in 2019, and was replaced by the young Thijs Verbeurgt. By the way, he now succeeds Gennez in the Flemish Parliament.”

Then why Gennez?

“Within the party, attention is mainly drawn to Gennez’s long service record. Barely a year and a half before the end of this legislature, the party was looking for someone who needed little break-in time to take her place in the government and pick up the thread in the cabinet again. Furthermore, Gennez would also have gained some experience in international development cooperation. For example, she sits on the board of directors of the NGO VVOB, which focuses on education in developing countries.”

“The striking thing is, of course, that Gennez will again play a prominent role in the 2024 election campaign. In the province of Antwerp, the party now mainly has Antwerp alderman Jinnih Beels as a female figurehead. With Gennez she has an extra iron in the fire. According to the party leadership, the hierarchy on the electoral lists has not yet been discussed, but Rousseau will undoubtedly already have a battle plan in mind.”

Gennez and Vandenbroucke in 2010, when Vooruit was still called sp.a.  Picture BELGA

Gennez and Vandenbroucke in 2010, when Vooruit was still called sp.a.Picture BELGA

Didn’t Gennez and Vandenbroucke have a fight?

“The two have indeed had a turbulent history. In 2009, party chairman Gennez ousted outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Vandenbroucke from the Flemish government. Not he, but Ingrid Lieten suddenly became the new number one of the socialists. Anyway, eleven years after that defense, Vandenbroucke made a comeback in 2020 through the big gate as Federal Minister of Health. Since then he made it clear that he had put the events of the past in place. The fact that he and Rousseau are now putting Gennez forward also seems to prove that. Vandenbroucke and Gennez have worked together several times in the past year, including on a resolution on ventilation in public buildings. The two were already sitting together this afternoon to go over the new plans.”

“The fact that the two old ruffs will now stand shoulder to shoulder in the federal government proves that since his presidency Rousseau has, after all, got rid of the old demons that plagued the socialists. The positive polls of recent months have undoubtedly contributed to this. Yet he also takes a serious risk. The moment he talks about rejuvenation and renewal, he sends two old party celebrities to the front. That can have the opposite effect.”

What does this mean for the future of Kitir?

“After her sick leave, she will return as a federal representative. It is planned that she will still play a key role for the party in the next elections in 2024. Still, this is the end of her national career, I’m afraid. The 25-year-old trade union representative at Ford Genk was spotted by Steve Stevaert in 2005, after which she was soon portrayed as a Limburg figurehead. She later became party leader and minister. She will probably now return to her role in Limburg.”

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