Despite the latest “Flemish Separatist” fling in the national government, Belgium still remains as one of the most enthusiastic members of the Union about the European Project. By Ece Kepekçi
As a founding member and with Brussels as the de-facto capital of the European Union, Belgium has always pushed for a closer Europe. Belgium’s capital, Brussels, is considered to be the de facto capital of the Union while being the host to the EU Commission, Council of Ministers, European Council and some meetings of the European Parliament as well as NATO Headquarters.
Belgium is a federal state with a multi-party political system. Political parties in Belgium have no chance of gaining power alone so they must form a coalition government. Due to this fact the formation of the government after June 2010 federal parliamentary elections took 541 days. Since the 1960s the nation went through six state reforms. After every federal election there has been the issue of distributing powers as a consequence, a constant institutional crisis. In 2010, the country’s public debt was 100% of its GDP, marking the third highest public debt rate in the Eurozone after Greece and Italy. Later on the same year, it was thought that Belgium would be next country to be hit by the financial crisis and this situation forced the country into forming a new government in 2011 after the unsuccessful outcome of 2010 elections.
Almost all political parties are divided into linguistic groups and more than anything else, Belgian politics is defined by the language dilemma between Flemish speaking and Francophone parts of the society, as well as the German speaking minorities. Politics in Belgium is influenced by lobby groups and the significant national Belgian political parties have split into three ideologies: right-wing Liberals, the social conservative Christian Democrats, and Socialists forming the left-wing. As a founding member of the European Union, Belgium has been participating in the direct European Parliament Elections since 1979.
The last European Parliament elections that took place in June 2009 resulted with a 90.5% turnout of the Belgian population. Although one can think that this high figure might be due to the country being one of the founding members of the Union, and/or being the host of many of the Union’s institutions, it is actually and mostly due to the compulsory voting law imposed upon the nation. Belgium elects 22 representatives to the European Parliament from three electoral constituencies: the Dutch-speaking electoral college, the French-speaking electoral college and the German-speaking electoral college. 13 of the 22 MEPs that will be elected are Dutch-speaking, 8 are French-speaking and 1 of them is German-speaking. Currently the Christian Democratic and Flemish Party (CD&V), which is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), the Open Flemish and Democrats (OPEN VLD), a member of The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE), and the Socialist Party (PS) which is a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES) occupy 3 seats each, marking the highest number of representation.
A rising Flemish party, New Flemish Alliance (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie, N-VA) is a right wing, nationalist party, seeking the secession of Flanders, the Dutch speaking Northern part of Belgium. Despite Belgium being known as one of the most pro-EU countries of the Union, the rise of Flemish nationalists with N-VA getting the most votes in the last elections definitely cultivated some sort of euroscepticism in the country. When N-VA received 28-29% of the votes in their specific region in the federal elections, the media took it as a “Victory for Flemish independence”. According to the Eurobarometer survey conducted in 2013, the percentage figure of the Belgian population that is optimistic about the future of the EU is 60% and this figure does not show very high levels of euroscepticism in the nation. Unlike the Vlaams Belang (In English, Flemish Interest), the Flemish Nationalist Party of the far right, the popular NV-A promotes a pro-European character with their tagline being “Necessary in Flanders, useful in Europe.” (Dutch: Nodig in Vlaanderen, nuttig in Europa.) So what seems like a national and a separatist movement on the Belgium level is a pro-European advocate on the EU level. N-VA has been more popular on the national level politics than on the EU level politics and currently they occupy one seat in the European Parliament. Taking into account the latest popularity of the party within the nation, the previous elections and their pro-EU advocate policy, N-VA is likely to step up with a higher number of seats in the Parliament in 2014.
In 2010, the CV&D for the first time since 1995 gained less than 20 seats (17) in the chamber of representatives but still managed to get one of the highest seat counts in the European Parliament for Belgium with 3 seats. Although the party has lost some popularity since the rise of the Flemish Nationalist Party (N-VA), during the local elections in 2012 it managed to remain in the coalition of all of the Flemish provinces and in three quarters of the municipalities. In the local elections of 2012, CV&D got the second most votes after N-VA in their Flemish speaking regions. CV&D as a party and ideology is rooted in history, dating back to the 19th century in the country. It was the most popular party amongst the nation in the first EP elections in 1979, gaining seven MEPs in total; however, the number has lowered since then and demonstrated a constant decline with some stability of three seats in the last three elections. Given the established history and still remaining popularity amongst the nation, despite the recent popularity loss, it is predicted that there will be little change with the MEP count of CV&D in the European Parliament.
Parti Socialiste (The Socialist Party) is the largest Francophone and the second largest party in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives. In the recent years, the Francophone community politics in Belgium has been rather stable compared to the Flemish speaking region and it is likely that due to this factor, the Socialist Party will have little change with its power in the European Parliament after the elections this year. The Green parties of both the Flemish and Francophone regions (Green! and Ecology Party) are most likely to stay in representation in the Greens/European Free Alliance Party of the European Parliament.
Despite the latest “Flemish Separatist” fling in the national government, Belgium still remains as one of the most enthusiastic members of the Union about the European Project.
Image: “Old Frayed Belgian Flag” courtesy of fdecomite via Wikimedia Commons. Published under Creative Commons 2.0.