Yesterday’s general elections in Belgium marked a significant move to the right as well as towards Flemish independence. In Wallonia, the French-speaking south of the country which lives off subsidies provided by Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north, the elections led mainly to a shift from one leftist party to another: the Parti Socialiste’s share of the Francophone vote dropped from 34.0 to 26.8% while Ecolo, the French-speaking Greens (red at the core) rose from 8.4 to 15.2%.
In Flanders, however, the Liberals and the Socialists lost heavily. The leftist Liberals of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt fell from 24.7% of the Dutch-speaking vote to 20.1%. The Socialists did even worse and fell from 24.8% to 16.2%. The elections were won by CD&V, an alliance of Christian-Democrats and Flemish-Nationalists, progressing from 25.3 to 31.4%, and LDD, the party of the maverick Jean-Marie Dedecker, who won 5.5%. The Flemish-secessionist, “islamophobic” and eurosceptic Vlaams Belang (VB) gained 19.2%. This is better than the 18.2% of the previous general elections in 2003, but less than the 24.1% which the party won in the 2004 Flemish regional elections.
The VB’s disappointing result can be attributed in part to factional infighting within the party leadership early this year, triggered by a newspaper interview in which a member of the party caucus torpedoed a collaboration between the VB and Mr Dedecker. The latter was a Liberal senator who had been ousted from his party for his criticism of PM Verhofstadt. Like the VB, Dedecker is also an outspoken Flemish-secessionist and a critic of multiculturalism and radical Islam. The combined scores of LDD and VB constitute 24.7% of the Flemish electorate voting for outspokenly separatist candidates.
In addition, the Christian-Democrats of Yves Leterme have formed an alliance with the equally secessionist, but pro-Europeanist Flemish-Nationalists, led by Bart De Wever. Mr Leterme, who is likely to become the next Belgian Prime Minister, is demanding a constitutional reform which should give Flanders greater powers. Mr Leterme, the son of a Walloon father and a Flemish mother, caused a stir last year when he told the French newspaper Libération that Belgium is an “accident of history” which has no “intrinsic value.” He also criticised Belgian King Albert II for not being fluent in Dutch, the language of the majority of his people.
If Mr Leterme were to form a government with the VB and LDD, he would have a sound majority of 56.1% of the Flemings in support of greater Flemish autonomy and center-right economic policies. Such a coalition, however, is unlikely to happen, because Belgian governments need majorities in both Flanders and Wallonia. Hence, the most likely outcome of the elections will be a coalition of the Christian-Democrats with yesterday’s losers, the Liberals and the Socialists, saddling the Flemings with yet another center-left government, despite their democratic demand that the right take over.
In France, by contrast, the electorate gets what it is entitled to. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP swept yesterday’s French parliamentary elections, gaining 46.4% for the UMP against 35.6% for the Parti Socialiste. This allows the new president to press ahead with the badly needed economic reforms. The latter are unlikely to happen in Belgium as long as the Belgian state exists, because Wallonia, at the receiving end of the welfare state mechanism, lacks any incentive to reform the system and can veto any attempt of the Flemings to do so.
Expectations are that the Belgian coalition talks will probably drag on for some time and result in a coalition that lasts only two years instead of a full term of four years. This will allow new general elections to be held in 2009, coinciding with the regional elections for the Flemish and Walloon regional parliaments. Flemish secessionists hope that, if at that moment the formation of a national government becomes impossible, the Flemish Regional Parliament will unilaterally declare Flemish independence.