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The European elections in Belgium

With federal and regional elections coming up in Belgium, some might forget that on the very same date, 26 May, the European elections take place as well. An overview of the expectations and trends regarding these elections is presented below.

N-VA and Brexit

Currently, the largest Belgian political party in the European Parliament is N-VA, which is a member of the European Group of Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), with 4 seats. This conservative and anti-federalist group is currently the third largest political group in the European Parliament. The British Conservatives are the largest party in the group with 19 seats. Should the UK fail to ratify the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement before 23 May, the day when the European parliamentary elections begin, the UK will have to participate in those elections, meaning the Conservatives will return to the European Parliament, albeit only until the UK has ratified the Withdrawal Agreement (no later than 31 October 2019). In addition, the polls don’t look good for the Conservatives and, therefore, the ECR will probably no longer be the third largest group in the European Parliament.

The N-VA presented Geert Bourgeois as the leader of its European list. The current Minister-President of Flanders sees this opportunity as a way to continue his work in the Flemish government at the European level. Assita Kanko, who made the switch from MR to N-VA earlier this year, is in second place just before ex-Finance Minister Johan van Overtveldt.

The Liberals and La République and Marche

In 2014, Open Vld became the second largest Flemish party in the European Parliament with 3 seats. Moreover, together with the 3 seats of the Walloon MR, it formed the largest political family. The liberals are a member of  the European Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) group, led by former Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt who was the Spitzenkandidat for ALDE in 2014. However, this year, ALDE presented “Team Europe”, of which Verhofstadt is a member. With their 7 candidates, ALDE hopes to win some of the EU top jobs. It is no secret that Verhofstadt wants to be the next President of the European Parliament. Since the biggest parties in the European Parliament, the EPP and S&D, will most probably lose their majority, there is an opportunity for Verhofstadt to grab his chance.

ALDE is projected to be the third largest political group in the new European Parliament, certainly if French President Emmanuel Macron decides to support the Liberal Group with his République en Marche?. However, at the moment, there are still a lot of doubts since Macron seems more in favor of establishing his own pan-European group “Renaissance”.

It is no surprise that Verhofstadt will again lead the Flemish list for Europe, while current MEP Hilde Vautmans is number two. Ex-president of MR Olivier Chastel will be the leader of the Walloon liberals’ list while current MEP Fréderique Ries is number two on the list.

Christendemocrats and Orban

CD&V currently has 2 seats in the European Parliament, but they also delivered the European Commissioner for Belgium, Marianne Thyssen. Thyssen has been responsible for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility in the European Commission for the last 5 years. She herself is the last candidate on the new European list, together with current MEP Ivo Belet and will, therefore, probably not return to the European Parliament. Leader of the European list is current federal Minister of Work, Kris Peeters. The Francophone Christian Democrats (Cdh) and the German-Speaking Christian Social Party (CSP) also have 1 seat each. Ex-President of the Cdh Benoît Lutgen will be the leader of the Walloon European list.

The Christian Democrats are currently mainly occupied by the Orbán case. The Prime Minister of Hungary is known as a major critic of the European Union and especially European migration policies. At the beginning of March, CD&V, Cdh and the Luxembourg Christian-Democratic party announced their intention to exclude Orbán and his Fidesz party from the European EPP group. Orban, in turn, responded that he had criticized the “idiots from the left” of the EPP. This story is clearly not over yet. Is it just a campaign stunt and will it be business as usual after the elections?

Left parties and Vlaams Belang

Finally, Groen, Sp.a and Vlaams Belang each won 1 seat in the European Parliament after the 2014 elections. Sp.a and Vlaams Belang announced that their current MEP will be the leader of the European list.  These are Kathleen Van Brempt and Gerolf Annemans respectively. Groen has a strategy and puts their MEP, Bart Staes, only in second place. Petra De Sutter, the well-known gynecologist, will be the leader of the European list for the ecologists. In the southern part of Belgium, the socialists will try to seduce the voters with ex-Minister President Paul Magnette while Philippe Lamberts, president of the Greens/EFA group, will be the leader of the Ecolo list for the European elections.

At the European level, however, there does not seem to be a green wave as we see in Belgium. The Greens/EFA group is predicted to have only 57 seats. The biggest loser, however, would be the social-democratic S&D group. Sp.a and PS are members of this group which is predicted to lose 37 seats, even more if the British Labour party leaves the European Parliament. This contrasts with populist parties like Vlaams Belang. Their group, Europe of Freedom and Nations (ENF), is predicted to have 62 seats, but the establishment of a new group with the Italian Lega Nord and the French Rassemblent National was announced earlier last week.

Elections projections

What about the projections for the above parties? Based on recent polls by Politico, we have, on the one hand, the winners, especially the green parties which are projected to win at least one seat each. That, put together, gives the ecologists 2 extra seats or 4 in total. For Wallonia, the communist PTB would enter the European Parliament as well, at the expense of the PS. On the other hand, we see loss of seats among the liberals. Both the Flemish Open Vld and the Walloon MR will probably lose one seat each which brings their total to 4 seats compared to the current 6.

Conclusion

At Belgian level, no major changes appear to happen. There will be some change to a certain extent, however, for the European groups. This is mainly the result of the growth of populist parties, Brexit and the emergence of new parties.

One thing is certain: Belgium has top candidates. Among the leaders of the lists, we find ex-Minister-Presidents, a current Minister-President, an ex-Prime Minister, party leaders and a Vice-President of the S&D group. Or are the underdogs going to surprise us?

In any case, it will be an exciting race because the Liberals, the Greens, the Christian Democrats and the N-VA will, according to the projections, end up with 4 seats each.