2024 Elections – A wind of change to the right? Belgium In Focus

In Belgium, the European Parliament election fever was largely overshadowed by the country’s federal and regional elections. More than 8 million voters went to the polls for their representatives, including at the European level. Voting is obligatory in Belgium, yet the abstention rate appeared slightly higher compared to the previous elections, amounting to up to 13%. Nonetheless, results showed that the citizens preferred change, with votes shifting to the right.

What Trends Compared to the European Parliament Elections?

Several trends can be identified, including a shift to the right, a decline of the Greens, and a personalisation of politics.

Shift to the Right

In the southern region of Wallonia, as well as in Brussels, the liberal MR (Mouvement Réformateur) emerged victorious, handing a significant defeat to the Socialists (PS), who had maintained a strong hold on power for decades. MR, being part of the Renew Europe group at the EU level, advocated for right-leaning policies, economic reform, and reducing social allocations to cut back the country’s spiralling government deficit. Its leader, Georges-Louis Bouchez, played the right-wing card in a Sarkozyan style and managed to take votes from the electorate that traditionally votes for the Socialists. Centrists les Engagés performed well, doubling their representation in Wallonia and gaining an extra 5% in Brussels, with a programme dominated by the narrative of increasing entrepreneurship and revisiting the social security system.

In Flanders, the vote has clearly preferred the right as well, with the conservative New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) receiving around 26%, and the radical-right Vlaams Belang receiving 22%. This was a slight disappointment for Vlaams Belang, as it expected to be the leading party in Flanders. Although both parties are considered nationalist, they have distinct approaches. Vlaams Belang seeks to split the country in the coming years, beginning with a “declaration of sovereignty” supported by a Flemish majority if they form a regional government. In contrast, the N-VA rejects short-term separatism and aims to reform the Belgian state into a “confederal” system, transferring all powers to the regional level while maintaining a national framework for essential functions like national defence.

Decline of the Greens

The biggest losers, also in Belgium, were the Greens. In Wallonia and Brussels, the Greens received only 7.1%, which is less than half compared to the previous elections in 2019. At the EP level, Greens only received 3.7% and lost their two seats in the European Parliament. The weakening of the Greens, particularly in Wallonia and Brussels, aligns with the decline of the Greens in Europe. At the EU level, the Belgian Greens suffered similar losses: Ecolo (in the French-speaking electoral college) and Groen (in the Dutch-speaking electoral college) won only two seats combined, one less than in 2019.

However, the global trend cannot solely explain the decline of Greens in Belgium. They have been increasingly criticised for mismanaging policies, including the mobility plan in Brussels, “Good Move.” The change in the political context also influenced the votes. For the citizens, the priority has shifted to the rising cost of living and security concerns. At the EU level as well, Eurobarometer data suggests that climate change and biodiversity were less important to voters in this electoral campaign than in 2019. The wars in Gaza and Ukraine, as well as the cost-of-living crisis, have dominated the news – and the themes of security and social issues are less connected to the Green label than climate change.

Personalisation of Politics

Mirroring the European election campaign trends, where the nomination of lead candidates, or Spitzenkandidaten, played a central role in media dynamics and reporting, the Belgian campaign also highlighted the importance of personalisation in politics. The choice of Sophie Wilmès, former Prime Minister of Belgium, as the head of the list for MR was a strategic decision, leveraging her popularity in the country. Belgian voters showed their preference for well-known personalities at the polls, with Wilmès receiving a record number of preferential votes. Additionally, other prominent figures and party leaders significantly influenced the election campaign and media coverage.

The voters have spoken in Belgium and in all 27 member states of the EU. The success of the centre-right in Belgium’s elections, and the overall success of the centre-right in election results at the European level, show that voters desire change. Now it is time for the centre-right to deliver; there is a clear mandate, and there are no excuses.