Nationalist parties, far-left on the rise ahead of Sunday's federal elections in Belgium

Belgian voters on Sunday not only elect a new federal parliament but also regional parliaments and members of the European Parliament.
Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo
Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De CrooPhoto | AP

BRUSSELS: The last time federal elections were held in Belgium in 2019, it took nearly 18 months before a new prime minister could be sworn in to lead a seven-party coalition government.

The wait was even longer after the 2010 vote when the country needed 541 days to form a government, still a world record.

Belgian voters return to the national polls on Sunday, in conjunction with the European Union vote, amid a rise of both the far-right and the far-left in the country. The vote could mean complex negotiations ahead in a country of 11.5 million people who are divided by language and deep regional identities.

Belgium is split along linguistic lines, with francophone Wallonia in the south and Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, and governments are invariably formed by coalitions made of parties from both regions.

The latest opinion polls suggest that a new headache is on the horizon.

Two Flemish nationalist parties are poised to gather the largest shares of votes in Flanders, with the far-right Vlaams Belang, which backs independence for Flanders, is expected to win more than 25% of the vote. Just behind, the right-wing nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) could get around 20% of the vote.

In French-speaking Wallonia, the Socialist Party is projected to garner as much as a quarter of the ballots ahead of liberals and the far-left Belgium's Workers Party. Poorer Wallonia — whose decline started in the 1960's while Flanders’ economy went up — traditionally leans in favor of national unity because the region would likely find it difficult to survive economically on its own.

If the lokatest projections are confirmed, the making of a government will be extremely difficult, especially if the Flemish nationalists join forces with the extreme-right at regional level, a move that would likely exclude them from coalition talks with moderate parties.

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo
Key issues hanging over the EU elections

Belgian voters on Sunday not only elect a new federal parliament but also regional parliaments and members of the European Parliament.

Sophie Wilmes, a former pro-business liberal caretaker prime minister, has already warned that she won't get involved in possible coalition talks with either the far-right or the far-left. She also predicted “enormous problems” if an alliance between the N-VA and the Vlaams Belang takes shape something N-VA leader Bart De Wever has so far ruled out.

“It would make the formation of a federal government almost impossible," she was quoted in Belgian media. "Nobody wants to form a coalition with a party that allies itself with Vlaams Belang.”

The surge of the anti-immigrant and separatist Vlaams Belang is reflecting a trend that has seen populist and far-right parties making gains across the EU in recent years. In Belgium, Vlaams Belang has however so far been blocked from entering governments as other Flemish parties vowed to exclude it from power.

According to Laura Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Antwerp, one of the main assets of Vlaams Belang is that it did not take part in the current government led by the liberal Alexander De Croo.

“We are seeing a rise in discontent among voters, a lot of negative emotion, and the party is managing to channel this anger and embody a solution to the mistrust of the political class in Flanders," she said in an article for the The Research and Studies Centre, at Robert Schuman Foundation.

“Polls show that few voters feel represented by the political class in office, and Vlaams Belang plays on this feeling to a great extent,” she said.

It's also unclear whether the Socialists and the radical left could find a common ground and unite with the Greens after the elections notably because of the Workers Party's ambiguous views on the Western support to Ukraine and NATO.

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo
Netherlands kicks off four days of European Union elections across 27 nations

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