Why did Belgium not have a national party?

On January 23, 2011, about 100,000 people marched in Brussels, Belgium, supporting the maintenance of national unity, calling on Dutch and French-speaking parties to bridge their differences as soon as possible and form a stable federal government.

After ruling for 50 months, Belgian Prime Minister Michelle announced that the cabinet would resign collectively two weeks before 2019. Then, under King Philip’s “comfort”, Michelle became the guardian prime minister to welcome the upcoming re-election.

The political crisis in Belgium stemmed from differences in attitudes towards the Global Compact on Immigration within the ruling coalition. In the center-right coalition led by Prime Minister Michel, the new Flemish coalition party, the largest party in parliament, opposed the signing of the contract, while Michel and three other parties (French Reform Movement Party, Dutch Christian Democrats and Dutch Open) The Liberal Democratic Party supports the contract. As a result, the New Flemish Alliance Party withdrew from the ruling coalition. The Michel government has chosen to resign collectively because of the crisis of trust.

The political crisis in Belgium reflects not only the profound impact of the debt crisis and refugee problems in Europe on the political situation in Western Europe in recent years, but also the unique political structure of Belgium. Therefore, the observation and analysis of Belgium may be a key to exploring the complexities of political rift in Western Europe and the new changes in political politics in the West.

Put together the “nation state”
Belgium is located in Western Europe. Due to the surrounding powers, the region has often become a strong neighbor in the history. Its ownership has been easily established between Burgundy, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Austria and France.

Fundamentally speaking, Belgium’s national construction has a strong human factor and was created as a strategic buffer between big powers. Therefore, although Belgium is a unified country, there is no unified nation. The Flemish people who speak Dutch in the north, the Walloons who speak French in the south, and the ethnic minorities who live in the border areas and speak German are lacking. Belgian identity. In this regard, the French politician Talley Lang once said: “In fact, there is no Belgian at all. It did not exist in the past and will not exist in the future. We are seeing the French and the Dutch (Flemish). And the Germans.”

From the perspective of the population composition of Belgium, the Dutch Flemish people account for about 60% of the total population, the French-speaking Walloons account for about 30%, and the remaining 10% of the population live in the Brussels region. Brussels is a bilingual area with a majority of French speakers, but it is located on the Flemish side in the north. In addition, about 1% of the population speaks German.

As two major sectors of Belgium, the socio-economic development of the Flemish region and the Wallonia region is not balanced. Historically, the southern Wallonia region was richer than the northern Flemish region. At the beginning of independence in 1830, Flemish was a poor agricultural area, while Wallonia was the first industrialized region on the European continent. At the same time, because French enjoyed cultural hegemony in Europe at the time, although the Walloons were in a minority position, French became the official language of the country and was widely used in administrative, military, judicial, educational, media and other fields.

However, the so-called thirty years of Hedong in the 30 years of Hexi, the economic situation in the two regions after the Second World War reversed: in the Wallonia region based on heavy industries such as steel and coal, the economy began to decline, while the Flemish region relied on small and medium-sized Enterprises and multinational companies have achieved economic growth. Along with the economic take-off, it is the cultural and political appeal of the Flemish people. Dutch was eventually identified as the official language of the country and became the only official language in the Flemish region. The unique national construction model and the unbalanced development model have shaped Belgium’s unique national structure and political party system.

Unique dual party system
At present, there are no national political parties in Belgium, and all political parties are regional political parties. There are a number of political parties in each region. For example, the Flemish Dutch-speaking parties mainly include the Dutch Christian Democratic Party, the Dutch Open Liberal Democratic Party, the Dutch Socialist Party, the Flemish Interest Party, the Dutch Green Party, etc., while the Walloon French Quarter There are mainly the French Reform Movement Party, the French Socialist Party, the French Centre for Humanitarian Democracy, and the French Ecological Party. These parties only conduct election campaigns in the local area and do not cross other vocabulary activities.

The Belgian political party system exists at the regional level of the “sub-national” and does not exist at the national (federal) level. The Dutch and French districts each have their own party system. In this regard, the Belgian political party system can be described as a unique dual party system.

This unique party system was not formed in the first place, but after the national party system was disintegrated under the impact. Belgium introduced male universal suffrage in 1919, and until 1960, it was a stable three-party system at the national political level. The traditional three major parties – the Christian Democratic Party, the Socialist Party, and the Liberal Party – form a government through a coalition of political parties. Among them, the Christian Democratic Party has a central role, and the ruling and opposition status of the other two parties has changed from time to time. This form of party coalition is also referred to by political scientists as “a coalition of political parties with central parties.”

From a social perspective, in the political process of nearly half a century, Belgian political party politics has always been built on the social divide of the mainstream of European society. Among them, the opposition between the Christian Democratic Party and the Socialist Party and the Liberal Party reflects the social division between religion and secularism, while the opposition between the Liberal Party and the Socialist Party reflects the social division between the capital owner and the working class. These distinctions are based on ideology and socio-economic aspects, rather than on the linguistic divide, and the former is traversing the latter.

Since the 1960s, the political form of political parties in Belgium has begun to change. Localist parties such as the People’s Party in the Flemish Region, the Walloon United Party in the Wallonia Region, and the French Democratic Front in the Brussels region have emerged, posing challenges to traditional mainstream parties. The number of votes won by regionalist parties in the elections has increased and reached its peak in the 1971 general election.

Under the pressure of localist parties, the three major political parties are also divided into two according to the region: the Christian Democratic Party is decomposed into the French-speaking Christian Socialist Party, the Dutch-language Dutch Christian Democratic Party; the Socialist Party is broken down into the French-language French Socialist Party. The Flemish Socialist Party in the Dutch-speaking region; the Liberal Party is decomposed into the Dutch Liberal Democratic Party and the French Reform Movement Party. In this way, the traditional three major political parties will decompose six political parties, coupled with the emerging regional political parties, the fragmentation of the Belgian political party system can be seen.

Group dilemma and alliance problems
The most direct consequence of the dual party system is the fragmentation of the party system at the national (federal) level, which in turn leads to difficulties in forming a cabinet and alliance.

Belgium adopts a parliamentary monarchy constitutional system. According to the procedure, it is necessary to form a cabinet by a political party that has a majority in the parliament. However, under the Belgian dual party system, even the largest political party in each vocabulary can hardly guarantee a majority in the federal parliament. Under this circumstance, the party with the most votes will have to seek partners in other small parties to form a joint cabinet.

In recent years’ elections, almost no political party has a vote rate of more than 20%. Thus, Belgium not only lacks an absolute majority party capable of forming a federal government, but even finds a slightly stronger relative majority party that can form a coalition of political parties. Therefore, Belgium often creates and maintains a world record of “no federal government”. Every few years, the periodic set-up dilemma is staged in Belgium. For example, in 2007 and 2010, it took 194 days and 541 days respectively to achieve a successful formation.

The most recent set-up dilemma occurred in 2014. In May of that year, Belgium held a three-in-one parliamentary election in the federal, regional and European circles, and the new Flemish Union Party in the Flemish region won. The party’s chairman, Barth Deweaver, was appointed by the Belgian King as the federal government cabinet coordinator, but failed to complete the task of coordinating the cabinet. Subsequently, Charles Michel, chairman of the French Reform Movement Party, was appointed to form a cabinet on June 25. However, after more than a hundred days of consultation and coordination, he did not complete the mission of the cabinet until October 7th – Belgium experienced another 135 days without the federal government.

In addition to the predicament at the federal level, the dual party system has also brought about the predicament of alliances at different levels. Belgian government agencies are more complex, in addition to the federal parliament and government at the national level, but also include government agencies at the regional level: the Flemish Parliament and the government (the combination of the Flemish Region and the Flemish Region in 1980) , Wallonia Regional Council and Government, French-speaking District Council and Government, German-speaking District Council and Government, Brussels Metropolitan District Council and Government, and government agencies at or below the provincial level. Therefore, Belgium actually has five different levels of elections: local elections, provincial elections, regional elections, federal elections, and European Parliament elections.

In the past, federal elections were held every four years, regional elections and European Parliament elections were held every five years, and local elections were held every six years. The lack of synchronization between regional and federal elections further deepens the complexity of the Belgian political system. Even if political parties form alliances at one of the above five levels, they may not be able to form alliances at another level of elections. This has led to the asymmetry of power at all levels of government.

Unpredictable political future
The fragmented party system will not only bring short-term problems such as the difficulties of the formation of the cabinet and the predicament of the alliance. In the long run, its challenge to the nationality (sovereignty and territorial integrity) of Belgium cannot be ignored.

The far-right party “Flemish Interest Party”

The internal mechanism is: First, a moderate party that is committed to easing inter-regional conflicts, lacking effective incentive space, because each political party limits its campaign commitments to voters in the region, and does not pay attention to the demands of voters in other regions; Second, other political parties will follow the example of localist parties, thus increasing the importance of ethnic-regional issues. Therefore, observing how party politics evolved may be an effective clue to judge Belgium’s future political direction.

From the perspective of social changes, the Belgian party system before the 1960s was largely based on the class division. However, as Western Europe took the lead in entering the post-industrial era, the differences in identity politics such as ethnicity, religion, and gender became increasingly prominent, and the division of education and media was not conducive to fostering cultural identity among ethnic groups. The Belgian King has advocated bilingual learning many times, but the results are not obvious. Therefore, the hope of re-nationalization of the party system is not great.

As far as institutional changes are concerned, since the 1970s, Belgium has finally transformed a unitary state into a federal state through five constitutional reforms. In the original monolithic institutional environment, the main goal of political parties (especially national political parties) was the central government; and with the downward shift of the power of the federal system, the political parties had to shift their focus. As a result, all national political parties split into two parts along the two major areas.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, in order to curb the fragmentation of the party system, Belgium has set the election threshold of “5% vote” and changed the federal election to every five years from 2014. In this way, the European Parliament, the federal elections and the regional elections can be combined (for example, in 2019, it is possible to hold federal elections on the 26th of the European Parliament elections), thereby effectively reducing the federal and regional governments. Asymmetry between.

Returning to the perspective of political party competition, the Belgian localist party flourished in the 1960s, which at the time greatly replaced the traditional three national political parties. However, the localist issues they advocated disintegrated the three major political parties in the country. The divided political parties seized the electoral space in their respective regions, leading to the three major regionalist parties starting to decline, and the vote rate was declining. Finally, disappear or linger. It’s a blessing.

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