The European Elections Monitor

Open panel Open panel
The European Elections Monitor
Politics and democracy
Belgium - Parliamentary

Significant breakthrough by the far right in Flanders, victory for the Socialist Party in Wallonia and Brussels: Belgium divided more than ever before

Significant breakthrough by the far right in Flanders, victory for the Socialist Party in Wallonia and Brussels: Belgium divided more than ever before

28/05/2019 - Results

The Belgian general election took place on 26th May revealing a greatly divided country.

The far-right made a significant breakthrough in Flanders in the shape of the Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest, VB), a party chaired by Tom Van Grieken. Although the New Alliance (N-VA), a nationalist party chaired by Bart de Wever, is still the region's leading party with 25 seats, it lost some seats however (-8 seats in comparison with the previous parliamentary elections on 25th May 2014) and failed to rise above the 30% vote threshold. The Vlaams Belang came second with 18 seats (+15).
The Christian Democratic Party (CD&V), led by Wouter Beke, came third, but with fewer seats: 12 MPs (-6). Then come the Liberals and Democrats (Open VLD), a party led by Gwendolyn Rutten, with 12 seats (-2); the Socialist Party (SP.A), led by John Crombez, with 9 seats (- 4) and Groen, an ecologist party chaired by Meyrem Almaci with 8 seats (+2). The Labour Party (PTB/PvdA), far left, led by Peter Mertens, won seats in Flanders for the first time. 

In Wallonia, the Socialist Party (PS), led by Elio di Rupo, came first in the election despite a loss of seats: 20[1] (- 3). It came out ahead of the Reform Movement (MR), a liberal party led by outgoing Prime Minister Charles Michel, which recorded a loss of support, winning 14 seats (- 6); Ecolo, a party led co-led by Zakia Khattabi and Jean-Marc Nollet, won 13 seats (+ 7) and the Labour Party, making strong progress, won 12 seats (+10). The Humanist Democratic Centre (cDH), led by Maxime Prévot, came fifth (5 MPs, - 4).

In Brussels, the socialists also came out ahead, just in front of the French-speaking ecologists who witnessed a sharp rise in support. The Reform Movement came third, followed by DéFI-Democratic Federalist Independent, chaired by Olivier Maingain and by the Labour Party. The latter made a breakthrough in the Belgian capital, as it did in Wallonia.

Turnout totalled 90.01%. We should note that it is obligatory to vote in Belgium.

Parliamentary election results 26th May in Belgium

House of Representatives
Turnout: 90.01%

Source :

"We have received a mandate from the electorate. I would feel bad if I did not do everything possible to enter office," declared the chair of Vlaams Belang, Tom Van Grieken, when the results were announced. He says he wants to "assume his responsibilities" and he hopes to "break the sanitary cordon" whereby the other political parties refuse to negotiate with it. "This result is beyond our greatest hopes. With 13% or 14%, I would have been a happy chairman. With this score you cannot hide behind the sanitary cordon. I must do everything I can, within my means, to break it," he added. He also said that he was prepared to "make some compromises" in view of the negotiations to form a government.

The many voters who transferred their support from the Vlaams Belang to the New Flemish Alliance in the last elections on 25th May 2014 were undoubtedly disappointed with the N-VA's results in government. "The reality is that in most countries and regions of Europe a quarter, and even up to a third of voters are attracted by a party that is extremely strict in terms of immigration. Depending on the political context, these people are going to vote for a far right or radical right party which lays claim to a security line. We have seen this in Austria for example. Mark Rutte also successfully played this card a while ago in the Netherlands. In Flanders these voters were in the Vlaams Belang and went over to the New Flemish Alliance which became a government party. This was the danger for the N-VA, of having a share of disappointed voters who would return to the Vlaams Belang. And this has now been proven true," analyses Dave Sinardet, a political expert at the University Saint-Louis and of the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels (VUB).

We might add that the Vlaams Belang, like other far right parties in Europe, has succeeded in positioning itself on social issues. "The Vlaams Belang has adopted a more leftwing profile, notably regarding socio-economic issues. It also focuses on the defence of the more vulnerable social classes. It is clearly a new position in a bid to try and win votes amongst those who are disappointed with parties on the left. The positions of the Vlaams Belang are sometimes quite close to those of the parties on the left (...). The Vlaams Belang's success is partly due to the frustration born of one reality: the New Flemish Alliance has become part of the establishment. Those disappointed with the N-VA immediately turned towards the Vlaams Belang, a party that has succeeded in capitalising on all kinds of social frustrations," states the political expert.
Finally, the youth of the far-right party's leaders is a major asset: the party seems to have convinced the youngest, notably many first-time voters.

The government parties and those in the opposition mutually accuse each other for the rise of the Vlaams Belang. The latter see it as a consequence of the outgoing Prime Minister Charles Michel's government (MR), in which the N-VA took part for four years until last December, and also its discourse placed firmly to the right. For its part the MR points to the attitude adopted by the opposition parties over the last five years and it recalls that the far-right is rising in many countries of Europe. "The rise of the Vlaams Belang shows that Belgium has not been spared by the rise of the extremist populists experienced by other European countries," states Charles Michel.

"I have some bad and some good news," indicated Bart de Wever when the results were announced. "We have lost the elections, it is clear, but we still hold an easy lead in Flanders," he stressed, declaring that he would not rule out discussions with the Vlaams Belang, whom he congratulated on its victory. "If we do things sensibly, but that does not often happen in this country, then we shall have to play the card of confederalism right now and bring this misery finally to an end," indicated Bart de Wever.

"We are the second victors in these elections," stressed Peter Mertens, chair of the Labour Party when the results were announced. "When all of the traditional parties get hit, it is a deafening message. The politician is there to serve the people, not to serve himself," he stated. He promised to be "an even greater driver of the engine on the left."

Elio di Rupo, the chair of the PS answered him saying, "we are the leading force in Wallonia and in the Brussels region. We are the leading French-speaking force in our country. More than ever before the socialists are leading, the success of the Socialist Party bears witness to a wish for change by most of the population. The Socialist Party will act in the interest of all the citizens of this country, it intends to deploy more social justice,".

With Flanders firmly anchored on the right and two other regions (Wallonia and Brussels) dominated by the left, the formation of a future government coalition in Belgium will be complicated. "The issue at stake is not just a political one, it is firstly sociological : how will the leaders of this country do things so that they can cohabit, in the same institutional space, with two populations that are so different, so opposite?" wonders Philippe Martin, an editorialist for the daily L'Avenir.
[1] Here the number of seats and for the following parties is quoted in this article for the whole of Belgium, since the French-speaking parties have won seats in Wallonia and in Brussels. The Flemish parties have also won seats in Brussel,s but fewer than the French-speaking parties.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The author
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Other stages