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Very heavy elections for little Belgium…

Posters in Uccle

By Tijs De Geyndt

On Sunday 26 May there is a lot at stake for the Kingdom of Belgium. Besides the European election, voters are obliged (voting is a duty, not just a right in Belgium) to elect representatives on the regional level and the federal level. The formations of the regional government tend to be easier than the formation of the federal government. Quick fact: after the elections of 13 June 2010, the federal government was sworn in on 6 December 2011 a whopping 541 days of formation, a world record that won’t be broken anytime soon unless by … Belgium. As the polls show it might once again become a huge endeavor to find Flemish (Dutch speaking) parties and Walloon (French speaking) parties reaching an agreement. This blog will tell you why. Please subscribe – it’s free.

About the main different levels of government:

Belgium is a federated state with a federal government responsible for policy that is applied throughout the whole country. Much of its policy domains shifted towards federated entities in several stages since the first State reform in 1970, five more have followed since with the last one being in 2012, the so called “butterfly agreement”. What remains is a stripped-down level roughly responsible for policy related to the common good like justice, social security, finances, foreign affairs, the army…

The state reform resulted in the formation of Communities based on cultural/language related aspects and Regions based on territorial economic related aspects.

Policy-making related to the language and related to the persons speaking that language (think radio, television, libraries but also education, theater and ‘person bound’ policy like aspects of health care and aid to people in need) have gradually shifted towards the three different cultural communities being: the Flemish (Dutch speaking), the Walloon (French speaking) and the German speaking community. This last group is with approximately 75,000 members supposedly the most privileged minority in the world. But as to not complicate things even more this blog will, for now, leave this community out of it. Sorry ‘East-Belgium’!

Besides the communities there are three regions responsible for policy related to economic activities. Historically the centre of gravity of economic activities in Flanders and Wallonia was quite different. For instance, until the 70’s Flanders was notably focused on farming while Wallonia had more mining activity etc. This made politicians demand more leverage to deal with challenges specific to the different regions, arguing that the needs were different. In the background ideological differences were also a driving force. Flanders was much more orientated towards the Catholic Church while Wallonia was more anticlerical and socialist. This resulted in entities that grosso modo divided Flanders and Wallonia. But what to do with Brussels? The capital is geographically located in Flanders but has since Belgium’s independence always had a majority of French speakers. As a typical ‘Belgian Compromise’ it was decided to make it a separate region: the Brussels Capital Region.

Luckily Flanders decided to bundle its responsibilities and form one Flemish government responsible for affairs related to Community Policy and Regional Policy. On the French speaking side, they preferred to form 2 different governments. For understanding Belgian politics this doesn’t have that much effect though. All news items related on this blog will be related to politics of Flanders, Wallonia, the Brussels Region, the Federal Government and additionally their relation towards the EU.

Overview of the parties:
Who is who?

Flemish parties:

CD&V: Christian democrats, ‘Christian, Democratic & Flemish’ (Dutch: Christen-Democratisch & Volks). Party leader: Wouter Beke. EPP-affiliated.

Groen: Green party. Party leader: Meyrem Almaci. Affiliated to the European Greens.

NV-A: Flemish Nationalists, ‘New Flemish Alliance’ (Dutch: Nieuwe Vlaamse Alliantie). Party leader: Bart De Wever. Affiliated to ECR, the European Conservatives and Reformists.

Open VLD: Liberal Democrats, ‘Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats’ (Dutch: Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten). Open referring to being in favour of an open society. Party leader: Gwendolyn Rutten. Affiliated to ALDE.

PVDA/PTB: Marxist Socialists, ‘Party of Labour’ (Dutch: Partij van de Arbeid, French: Parti du Travail de Belgique). Note: this is the only national political party that hasn’t split up into an autonomous Dutch speaking and French speaking party. Party leader: Peter Mertens.

SP.a: Social Democrats. ‘Socialistic Party different’ (Dutch: Socialistische Partij Anders). Party leader: John Crombez. Affiliated to  PES.

Vlaams Belang: Far Right nationalists, ‘Flemish Interest’ (Dutch: Vlaams Belang). The extreme right party that changed their name from Vlaams Blok (‘Flemish Block’) after being convicted in court for racism in 2004. Party leader: Tom Van Grieken. Affiliated to ENF (Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom – European Alliance of People and Nations).

Walloon parties:

CDH: Christian Democrats. ‘Center of Humanist Democrats’. (French: Centre Démocrate Humaniste). Party leader: Maxime Prévot. Affiliated to EPP.

Défi: French speaking interest oriented party, hardliners when it comes to the ‘right to speak French’, even in Flemish region. ‘Independent Federal Democrats’ (Démocrate Fédéraliste Indépendant). No European affiliation.

Écolo: Green party. Short in French for ‘ecologists’. Party leader: Zakia Khattabi & Jean-Marc Nollet. Affiliated to the European Greens.

MR: Liberal democrats. ‘Reform Movement’ (French: Mouvement Réformateur). Party Leader: Olivier Chastel. Affiliated to ALDE.

PS: Socialists. ‘Socialist Party’ (French: Parti Socialiste). Party leader: Elio Di Rupo. Affiliated to PES.

PTB/PVDA: Marxist Socialists. Party leader: Peter Mertens.

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