This Sunday, on the same day as the European Parliament elections, Belgium will hold a general election, electing both new federal and regional assemblies to govern 11 million people. The key question is how strong the Flemish nationalist N-VA, which is already the biggest political party, will perform this time around.
The N-VA, a “eurorealist” formation, wants to reform the country, a mini-EU/Eurozone composed of Flemish and Francophones, into a confederation (although it favours splitting it up in the very long term). It became the biggest party in 2010, but was ultimately excluded from a federal government because it appeared impossible to wrap up a coalition deal with Francophone parties, resulting in 541 days without a federal government.
A coalition of six parties led by Francophone socialist Elio Di Rupo eventually emerged. One big issue was that the coalition did not enjoy support among the majority of Flemish MPs in the federal Parliament. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who has been Belgian PM himself, once warned that if such a government would ever be formed, this would be “dangerous for the existence of the state”. His party, the Flemish Christian-Democrats, have now pledged not to enter such a coalition again. This Sunday, it will become clear how voters have judged this. For more background on the complexities, we refer you to this comment piece by our resident Belgian expert.
Opinion polls are notoriously unreliable in Belgium, but suggest that, in the Flemish districts, the N-VA will improve on their 2010 showing, while the three traditional parties will remain broadly at the same level. If they again fail to command a majority of Flemish seats but, nevertheless, prefer to avoid complicated talks with the N-VA, the Flemish Christian-Democrats will need to break their promise, something which they may do if one of them becomes PM and the incumbent Elio Di Rupo is offered a job in the European Commission, for example. Di Rupo’s Socialist Party is expected to suffer considerable losses, but would easily remain the biggest party in the Francophone part of the country.
Scenario 2: A federal government which includes the N-VA
Bart De Wever, the N-VA’s leader, has himself indicated he’s willing to enter a federal government and not make new demands to decentralise powers, if centre-right policies are implemented. The N-VA hopes this pressure may drive the Francophone socialists to return to their historic demands for more decentralisation (in his maiden speech to the Belgian Parliament in 1988, PM Di Rupo himself proclaimed that “there are no Belgians”, while demanding “a confederal Belgium”).
Such a federal government without Francophone socialists (who have been in power since 1988) but with Francophone liberals and Christian-Democrats is an unlikely scenario, also because this time around it would probably not command a majority of the Francophone seats in Parliament. However, if the N-VA does better than expected, this scenario could materialise.
Scenario 3: Prolonged stalemate
Last but not least, there is the scenario of another one and a half years of stalemate, prolonged to an indefinite period without a federal government, which could result in negotiations on an eventual divorce. We rate this as very unlikely.
As you can see, it’s complicated.Open Europe blog team