Wednesday

18th Oct 2017

Focus

Belgians' pride in EU role quells euroscepticism

  • On the global stage Brussels receives lots of high-profile visitors. US president Obama came in March (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Belgians are more in favour of the EU than other Europeans but there are few 'take-home' lesson for other member states looking to quell rising euroscepticism.

Seventy percent of them see themselves as EU-citizens and nearly half of them feel Europe takes their view into account, in both cases significantly more than the average European.

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.

And while the next European Parliament is set to include many more eurosceptic deputies there won't be a surge of them from Belgium.

The only Belgian party that is campaigning against the European Union is the extreme right Vlaams Belang, friend of the France's National Front and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. But even it wants some sort of European cooperation and a eurozone (albeit without southern nations).

The country's biggest party, the Flemish separatist N-VA, says it is 'eurorealist' rather than outright eurosceptic. It used to be strongly pro-EU but in recent years N-VA president Bart De Wever – the most popular politician in the country – has flirted with a conservative, right-wing, hard-on-crime image.

In recent years he had a few talks with British PM David Cameron, who would like to see the N-VA as part of his conservative group in the European Parliament.

But the N-VA is hesitant. Cameron's Tories are more eurosceptic than the N-VA, which wants to stay in the euro, in the passport-free Schengen Zone and the common market.

Its approach to Europe could roughly be summed up as "Europe should involve itself a little bit less in everything".

Sounds vague? That's because it is. The N-VA's euroscepticism is not much more than a feeling of discontent with events in recent years.

All other political parties, both those in the south and the north of the linguistically divided country, are clearly in favour of the European Union.

The Belgian role in the EU

The broad answer to the question of why euroscepticism is not such a major phenomenon in politics or society is that Belgians are proud of their role in Europe.

On the global stage Brussels receives lots of high-profile visitors. This year alone has already featured visits by US President Obama and Chinese President Xi; there will the G7 in June, as well as endless European summits. Not bad for a small country that most people around the world probably don't even know exists.

Belgians are also proud of their role in building the Union: it's one of the six founding member states and Belgian politicians have been influential. Today Belgium 'has' two of the top jobs: Herman Van Rompuy as president of the European Council and Karel De Gucht as commissioner for trade.

Van Rompuy and De Gucht's influence on Belgian citizens, in terms of explaining the European Union, mitigates against the tendency of national politicians to blame all things bad on Europe while taking credit for positive developments themselves.

Most Belgians realise it is not Europe's fault if its sovereign debt and budget deficit are high. In fact, most look to Europe for a solution.

And for the more right-wing Flanders, which has to live with federal policies that are a result of a compromise with more left-wing Brussels and Wallonia, Europe provides a useful lever for structural change and budget consolidation that they themselves cannot implement.

Now don't be mistaken, Belgians are not in the habit of waving the European flag at every occasion. The media gives as few column inches and airtime to Europe as possible.

And Belgian government, both national and regional, is one of the worst when it comes to transposing EU directives into law, appearing regularly before the European Court of Justice as a result.

Belgians seem unbothered by this shoddy implementation of European legislation yet ironically are indignant when the UK blocks negotiations on new directives.

And even though nearly all Belgians will vote in the May European elections, this is because it's compulsory. No one knows how many would show up if it was a voluntary vote, but certainly much fewer.

So, can Europe take any lessons from Belgium? The answer is: very few.

Ultimately, Belgians' affection for the EU comes down the country's geographical location.

Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union. The EU institutions, the eurocrats and lobbyists around them, are at the heart of the country.

When Belgians see their 'own' Van Rompuy on TV welcoming Obama on behalf of the European Union, he is doing so on Belgian soil; and when Belgians walk the streets of their capital, unlike other Europeans, the EU is right there.

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.

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.

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.

EUobserved

Schadenfreude and fire-walking in the EP

There was outright glee in the EP on Thursday. It was time to dust off everyone’s favourite German word for pleasure in the misfortune of others.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish Court declares Catalan referendum law void
  2. EU to keep 'Dieselgate' letter secret
  3. No deal yet on Mediterranean alliance for EU agencies
  4. EU Commission condemns Maltese journalist's murder
  5. Poland denies wrongdoing over forest logging
  6. Risk to asylum kids in EU increasing, says charity
  7. Schroeder warns of Turkey and Russia drifting towards China
  8. EU parliament wants equal pay for posted workers

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  2. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  6. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  7. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  8. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  9. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  10. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  12. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year

Latest News

  1. EU rejects UK claim it's slowing Brexit talks
  2. Nepal troops arrive in Libya to guard UN refugee agency
  3. Is Banking Authority HQ the Brexit 'booby prize'?
  4. EU-Russia trade bouncing back - despite sanctions
  5. No sign of Brexit speed-up after May-Juncker dinner
  6. EU defence strategy 'outsourced' to arms industry
  7. EU privacy rules tilt to industry, NGO says
  8. Malta in shock after car bomb kills crusading journalist

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  2. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  3. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  4. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  8. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  9. CESIJoin CESI@Noon on October 18 and Debate On: 'European Defence Union: What Next?'
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  11. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  12. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews