Guest post from our Benelux correspondent, Justin-Paul Sammons.
Like its smaller neighbour Luxembourg, Belgium will elect its EU representatives on Sunday 7 June; voting is compulsory (as it also happens to be in Luxembourg), and polls are only open from 8:00am to 1:00pm (until 3:00pm if you’re casting an electronic vote). Belgium and Luxembourg are also multi-lingual nations, but in terms of these elections, that’s where the similarities end.
Belgium subdivides itself into three electorates along linguistic lines. The northern part of the country, Flanders, speaks Flemish (almost identical to Dutch), while the southern part, Wallonia, speaks French. The third electorate is a small province in the east along the border with Germany where German is the main language. In 2004, the Flemish part delivered 14 MEPs, the French-speakers elected 9, and the German-speaking area had a sole MEP for a total of 24. This is now reduced to 22, with the Flemish and French-speaking electorates each losing one MEP.
Belgian national politics has as many parties as a minestrone soup has vegetables, so it’s no surprise that their MEP breakdown is similar:
- Christian Democratic and Flemish / New Flemish Alliance (EPP): 4
- Flemish Bloc (NA): 3
- Flemish Liberals and Democrats (ALDE): 3
- Social Progressive Alternative – Spirit (PES): 3
- The Greens (EG/EFA): 1
- Socialist Party (PES): 4
- Reformist Movement (ALDE): 3
- Democratic Humanist Centre (EPP): 1
- The Greens (EG/EFA): 1
- Christian Social Party (EPP): 1
While there are clear affiilations between some of the parties across linguistic boundaries, they still operate independently of each other, so Belgium really does send representatives from ten different parties to the EU.
Most of these parties are run-of-the-mill and have which can be found across the continent, with the exception of the Flemish Bloc. The party was founded in the late 70s but recently gained notoriety (and a lot of supporters) as a result of its anti-immigration policies. The other Belgian parties refused to go into a coalition with the Bloc at any level of government, effectively shutting them out from holding office. In 2004, the party was convicted under anti-racism legislation for actively promoting and attempting to pursue policies which were discriminatory and encouraged racial segregation. The Bloc subsequently disbanded, then reformed as Flemish Interests, removing the more controversial aspects of the Bloc’s policy platform but retaining assimilationist ideals.
Predicting the results in the German-speaking part of Belgium is pretty straightfoward. The Christian Social Party polled 42% in 2004 compared to 22% for an alliance between the Party for Freedom and Progress and Reformist Movement, so it is likely to retain its seat. Things are not as straightforward in the French and Flemish parts of the country, however, as both will elect one MEP fewer than in 2004. While logically this would mean that smaller parties like the Greens would be in danger of losing their seats in both electorates, the financial crisis hit Belgium’s banks pretty badly, and there is a lot of voter resentment against the major parties. In the French-speaking electorate, this week’s polls show that the Greens may triple their 2004 vote to become the second-largest party with 26% of the vote at the expense of the Socialist Party (social democrats), while in the Flemish electorate, Flemish Interest are the largest party in the polls at the moment, meaning they are set to gain seats alongside newcomers Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (an alliance of existing liberal and democrat parties), which is led by former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.
Belgian voters will also elect their regional parliaments along the same linguistic subdivisions on 7 June.