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Belgium has voted
Flanders moves further to the right - Wallonia to the centre

Author: Angela Ostlender

On 9 June 2024, Belgium elected not only the European Parliament but also a new national parliament as well as the three regional parliaments of Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels and the parliament of the German-speaking Community.

Voting is compulsory in Belgium. For the first time, over-16s were also allowed to vote in the European elections. Voter turnout in 2024 was 87.5%, around 1.5% lower than in the previous elections in 2019.

Even though the country currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, national issues dominated the election campaign. Above all, the limitation of immigration and the tightening of asylum policy as well as the rising cost of living and growing crime rate appealed to voters. 

 

 

© HSS Brussels Office

Overview of results in the regions

The outcome of elections in the regions is just as important in Belgium as at national level, as the regions claim far more powers for themselves than in Germany, for instance.

In Flanders, further state reform to expand regional autonomy and responsibility was therefore an important election campaign topic, particularly among parties on the right-wing spectrum. The trend towards the far right is intensifying, even if the far-right, separatist and racist Vlaams Belang (VB) did not become the strongest party in Flanders and Belgium as a whole, as predicted. Nevertheless, it was able to gain votes and seats both in Flanders and at national and European level, mostly at the expense of the more moderate right-wing nationalist Nieuwe Vlaams Alliancie (N-VA).

Despite slight losses, the right-wing nationalist N-VA remains the strongest force in both Flanders and Belgium. The "cordon sanitaire" vis-à-vis Vlaams Belang is being maintained. A coalition between N-VA and VB is therefore ruled out and would also not work in terms of numbers. The socialist Vooruit surprisingly came third, gaining six seats in the Flemish parliament. Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams (CD&V) loses three seats, but picks up around four percentage points after its polling low in 2021.

© HSS Brussels Office

In Wallonia, the centre parties are the surprising election winners; the liberal Mouvement Réformateur (MR) and "Les Engagés" (LE), which emerged from the Christian-social party line, recorded the highest increases in votes. It is highly likely that a two-party coalition of MR and LE will emerge, which would have a comfortable majority of 43 from 75 seats. The political shift from left to center in Wallonia also undermines the Flemish separatists, whose main argument rests on the supposed cultural and socio-political incompatibility between the two major regions of the country.

In addition to the Parti Socialiste (PS), the main losers in Wallonia include the Greens (Ecolo), which lost ten seats at national level, seven in Wallonia and eight in Brussels. On the Flemish side, Prime Minister De Croo's liberal Open VLD in particular recorded the biggest losses (seven seats in Flanders and five in the national Chamber of Deputies). The party has already decided to join the opposition bench.

The expected upward trend of the radical left, as indicated by the polls, remained subdued. However, the PTB-PVDA alliance has become the third strongest force in the Brussels capital region, gaining five additional seats. Meanwhile, they lost two seats in Wallonia but gained five in Flanders.

© HSS Brussels Office

The Brussels Parliament consists of 89 members, 72 of whom are French-speaking and 17 Flemish-speaking. To form a government, each language group needs its own majority: the French-speaking parties need at least 37 seats and the Flemish-speaking parties at least nine. On the French-speaking side, MR and LE have already announced that they will work together. However, with a total of 28 seats, they are nine seats short of a majority. The PS, the second strongest party with 16 seats, could consider co-operation, but like Ecolo, it had already decided in favour of the opposition in advance. On the Flemish side, the situation is complex too: Groen is the strongest party with four seats, but needs another five seats for a majority. Team Fouad Ahidar, with three seats, could be a partner, although other Flemish parties are reluctant to co-operate with this new heteroclite leftist movement. Alternatively, Groen could form coalitions with other parties such as Vooruit, N-VA, Open-VLD, CD&V or PVDA, but this would require at least a four-party coalition on the Flemish side. A complicated government formation with many discussions is to be expected, as each additional party in the coalition complicates the distribution of ministerial posts.

The distribution of seats in the Parliament of the German-speaking Community remains largely the same, with two additional seats for the governing party ProDG of Prime Minister Oliver Paasch.

In the European elections, there were only minor changes in the 22 seats for Belgian MEPs, reflecting national and regional trends.

The seats in the Belgian Chamber of Deputies are divided according to language groups, with 62 seats going to French and German-speaking deputies and 88 seats going to Dutch-speaking deputies.

© HSS Brussels Office

What do the results mean for the outgoing governing "Vivaldi" coalition ?

The outgoing governing coalition, consisting of seven parties to the left and right of centre, only has a majority of one seat due to the heavy losses of the Flemish Liberals and Francophone Greens and Socialists. Based on the colours of the coalition partners, which correspond to the four seasons (green, orange, red and blue), and inspired by the famous violin concertos by the Italian composer of the same name, it was named "Vivaldi" in 2019. A "Vivaldi II" government is considered very unlikely, also in view of the fact that PS, Ecolo and Open VLD have already refrained from participating in government again.

However, the five regional election winners (N-VA, CD&V and socialists Vooruit in Flanders and MR and LE in Wallonia) would also have a majority of 82 of the 150 seats in the national Chamber of Deputies. Interestingly, this time there would only be one inter-regional party family, namely the Christian Democratic CD&V and LE, which could strengthen their position within the alliance. There would also be many thematic overlaps, at least between N-VA, CD&V, LE and MR and a strong focus on an austere budget policy and urgently needed reforms to social and economic policy.

© HSS Brussels Office

Analysis and Outlook

Belgium has an asymmetrical party landscape with different political developments and tendencies in the two large regions of the country: While the trend in the north is tending to strengthen in favour of the political fringes to the left and right of centre, the south of the country is moving further towards the political centre. CD&V and LE have moved closer together again in recent years, which is also due to the clearer political profile of LE and its positioning in the centre, in which many liberals can also recognise themselves. However, this is the exception. Vooruit and the PS have never been so far apart politically, after the PS moved further to the left in order not to lose too many voters to the communist PTB-PVDA.

Ecolo, however, is suffering from the generally observed decline in the importance of "green" topics, which is also due to important geopolitical challenges. In Brussels, they were punished primarily for the drastic traffic-calming measures implemented by the Flemish Green transport ministries.

The N-VA and VB do not have a Walloon sister party. There is little interest in separation and nationalist issues in the French-speaking part of the country. It is therefore also unlikely that an N-VA politician will be able to claim the post of prime minister without making significant concessions; however, this would in turn result in a loss of support from their own voters. One of the most popular candidates in the country is the MR lead candidate for the European elections, Sophie Wilmes (MR), who took over as prime minister from 2019 to 2020 after Charles Michel was appointed President of the European Council. She was elected to the European Parliament with over 21% of the Belgian vote. However, it remains to be seen whether she will be a candidate for the highest office.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo presented the resignation of the government to the Belgian head of state, King Philippe, on 10 June. From now on, the government will only be in office on a caretaker basis. The King then held talks with all party leaders. As expected, N-VA leader Bart De Wever now has a dual role. He will conduct initial exploratory talks as an "informant" on both the national and Flemish sides. In Wallonia, the MR and LE are already negotiating a possible coalition agreement.

Even if the expected strengthening of the extreme right in Flanders has materialised, it is not steering the country into a dead end. This government formation may even be one of the fastest in recent elections. In 2019, it took 493 days, but the Belgian (and world) record was 541 days in 2010.

Kontakt

Director: Dr. Thomas Leeb
Belgium (Europe Office Brussels)
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Programm Managerin: Angela Ostlender
European dialogue
Angela Ostlender
Programm Managerin