Thursday

23rd Mar 2017

Focus

Belgian PM feels the heat from left

  • Elio Di Rupo (c) - being in government is not making his party more popular (Photo: fotospresidencia5)

In Belgium the EU elections take place on the same day as the national and regional elections - a day that won't be a picnic for Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

His socialist party (PS) is doing badly in opinion polls. The leftist Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB), by contrast, could for the first time succeed in passing the 5 percent threshold.

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The PS has for many decades been by far the biggest party in Wallonia, the southern French-speaking part of Belgium.

But in recent years the Socialist Party - which has a sister party in the Flemish speaking northern part of the country - has emerged as the biggest in the whole of Belgium (except for N-VA, a separatist party that exists only in Flanders).

This is why Di Rupo became prime minister in 2011, making him the country’s first Socialist leader since 1974.

With Di Rupo as prime minister, the Socialist Party could not continue as before. It was, and is, still very much a socialist party of the old school variety. No ‘social democrats’ here.

Under pressure from the European Union, the party had to accept that unemployed people should be pushed harder to find a job, that wages are capped and that early retirement is restricted.

For many Europeans these measures will not look very spectacular, but for a large group of leftwing Walloons it was heresy. They accuse the PS of collaborating with the “capitalist enemy”.

The Workers’ Party of Belgium, meanwhile, is taking advantage of the moving political landscape. After decades of being statistically irrelevant, they are now at 6-7 percent in Wallonia and 4 percent in Flanders.

The PS and its Flemish sister party sp.a say the rise of the Workers’ Party weakens the left, as the party is scooping leftist voters without actually having a chance of ever getting into government.

And as far as the EU is concerned, Di Rupo’s party and the spa.a argue that the PTB’s success is all the more reason to ask for a different Europe – one that is less focused on budget consolidation and more on growth and job creation.

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