Wednesday

25th Apr 2018

Focus

Super Sunday: Belgians vote local, national, and European on same day

  • Flemish flag: The Flemish separist question dominates the Belgian political scene (Photo: crosby_cj)

Even in a loyal member state like Belgium, criticism of the EU has been on the rise in recent years. But most people - and their political representatives - remain staunchly pro-European

This puts Bart De Wever, the leader of the nationalist Flemish party, the N-VA, which advocates splitting Belgium in two, in something of a pickle. How to be eurosceptic without being too eurosceptic?

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But first things first.

Belgians will vote in the EU elections on 25 May. The day - a Sunday - has been called the “mother of all elections.” Why? Because in addition to voting for the EU assembly, there are direct elections to six national and regional parliaments and one indirect election to the federal senate.

Campaigning for the May elections already started at the end of last year - an indication of the significance of the day.

After 25 May there will be no more elections at the federal and regional level for five years, a rarity in a country with multiple levels of government. So the stakes are high: if you are voted in, you are in until 2019. If not, it means a half decade in the political wilderness.

Whether you are a fan of De Wever’s politics or not - he heads a party that is seen as anti-immigrant and nationalistic - he sets the tone of the political discussion in the northern part of Belgium.

His party wants Belgium to split in two: Flanders, the richer northern part of the country, where 60 percent of the population lives, and Wallonia, the French-speaking poorer part in the south.

The N-VA (new Flemish Alliance) believes that without Wallonia, Flanders would be much richer, more efficient, less corrupt and less old-fashioned.

De Wever, who is also mayor of Antwerp, is seen as the politician who will bring about change.

The dilemma

In Belgium there is no nation-wide voting. Flemish voters can only vote for Flemish politicians and Francophones for French-speaking ones.

De Wever is aiming for at least 30 percent of the Flemish vote to ensure he cannot be excluded when it comes to forming a coalition. His party will probably become the biggest party in Flanders, but given the fragmentation of Belgian politics, De Wever fears being ignored if the party does not scoop one third of the vote. It is a threshold that is seen as ambitious, but possible.

This puts the N-VA in a dilemma, one that will become increasingly apparent as election day approaches.

The party has to be radical enough to please its faithful, but moderate enough to attract new voters. And that goes for both EU and national level.

When it comes to the Belgian elections (federal and regional), the N-VA has to balance the demand for further institutional reform (the party wants to devolve more power to the regional level) and the need for strong socio-economic reform.

Nobody wants to relive the political crisis of a few years ago, when the country was without a government for more than 500 days.

And when it comes to the European elections, the problem is finding the right tone and message on the EU.

The EU dimension will also affect De Wever’s attempts to poach voters from the Vlaams Belang, which is on the hard right and Belgium’s only outright eurosceptic party.

He needs some Vlaams Belang voters in order to achieve his goal of being indispensable when it comes to future government-making.

To complicate matters even more, the person heading the N-VA list is himself a well-known and outspoken critic of the euro. Johan Van Overtveldt is an economist and former editor-in-chief of a financial weekly in which he often argued that the single currency is unsustainable. Today he presents himself as a “eurorealist.”

And the EU parliament

And then - in Belgium the complexity of politics is unending - there’s the matter of the political groups in the EU parliament.

Today the single N-VA deputy in the EU assembly is part of the Greens/European Free Alliance. Besides the Greens, this group consists of small, nationalist parties. The group is mainly left wing, while the N-VA in recent years has clearly moved to the right.

This means N-VA will probably have to leave the group.

Logically, N-VA could team up with the British Conservatives, but they are probably too eurosceptic for the average Flemish voter. And that is why the N-VA remains coy about which EU parliamentary group it will eventually join.

In terms of seats, Belgium is unlikely to become more eurosceptic en bloc. Sure, the “eurorealist” N-VA representation will increase (from possibly one to three MEPs), but the far-right Vlaams Belang is set to lose, going from three MEPs to one.

All other Belgian parties, both Flemish and French speaking, are pro-EU.

Among these, the left-wing parties place emphasis on having “a different Europe.” The social democrats and the greens (in both the north and south of the country) reject the EU’s austerity policy. They say Europe compounded the crisis, with too much focus on slashing spending and not enough on stimulus.

The centre and right-wing parties (Christian Democrats and Liberals) also have points of criticism. However, they do not want less Europe or another Europe, they want more Europe - to better tackle social problems and keep control of the financial sector.

Most prominent in this last group is Guy Verhofstadt, a former prime minister and candidate for the job of commission president.

In his customary frank style, Verhofstadt is campaigning for the role with a very federalist programme. Although not many in Belgium view the programme as realistic, Verhofstadt remains a popular politician.

Another person to watch is Marianne Thyssen, head of the Flemish Christian Democrat’s list. She has been an MEP for years, has a good reputation and may therefore be the next Belgian commissioner, although Flemish liberal Karel De Gucht, currently EU trade commissioner, wants to stay put.

The decision on the next Belgian commissioner will be made during coalition talks for the next federal government, which means Thyssen has a good chance of ousting him.

Belgian voters will elect 21 MEPs to the 751-strong European Parliament on 25 May.

Flemish separatists win Belgian election

A Flemish separatist party in favour of splitting the country into French- and Dutch-speaking parts claimed victory in Belgian elections on Sunday, making it likely that coalition talks will be even more difficult than usual in the divided state.

Belgian PM feels the heat from left

Elio Di Rupo's Socialist Party has taken some tough economic decisions since being in power. The leftist Workers' Party of Belgium is profiting.

Belgium's biggest party has no allies in the EP

With one month to go until the EU vote, it is clear that Belgium's biggest political party will have several MEPs but unclear whether it will wield any real influence in the next European Parliament.

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

News in Brief

  1. Far-right attack migrants on Greek island
  2. Merkel defends accepting UN refugees
  3. EU commissioner plans Malta 'money laundering' inspection
  4. Survey: Half of high polluting farms receive CAP subsidies
  5. Commission will 'not shy away' from Malta killing repercussions
  6. EU Commission opens probe on Alitalia state loan
  7. Paris suspect given 20-year sentence for Brussels shoot-out
  8. Merkel and Pena Nieto praise EU-Mexico trade agreement

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  3. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  4. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  6. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  7. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  8. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight

Latest News

  1. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  2. Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ
  3. How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?
  4. MEPs tell Chinese ambassador of concerns on trade
  5. Greenland votes with eye on independence
  6. EU court delivers blow to anti-abortion activists
  7. Hungary activists defiant after 'Soros Mercenaries' attack
  8. European Commission proposes whistleblower protection law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  3. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  7. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  8. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  9. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  10. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  11. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  2. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  3. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  4. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  5. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  6. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  7. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  8. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  9. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  10. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  11. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  12. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?