At the end of April I began my quest. My aim was to interview all the persons who were heading the list of the European Elections and that of every Belgian party with a realistic chance at seats in the Parliament. I contacted Groen! (Flemish green party), Ecolo (Wallonian green party), PS (Wallonian socialists), sp.a (Flemish socialists), SLP (Flemish socialists with liberal touch) Open Vld (Flemish liberals), the coalition MR-FDF (Wallonian liberals), Vlaams Belang (ultra right Flemish nationalists), N-VA (Flemish nationalists), Lijst Dedecker (Flemish liberal nationalistic party), CD&V (Flemish christen democrats) and CDH (Wallonian christen democrats). Of the twelve parties eight replied with answers. What’s striking is that both the whole traditional liberal family (Open Vld & MR-FDF) en the christen democratic family (CD&V & CDH) didn’t reply. Open-Vld, MR-FDF en CD&V are all mayor players in the Belgian political landscape, their top candidates for Europe were all big names (Guy Verhofstadt, Louis Michel & Jean-Luc Dehaene), apparently they didn’t need the free publicity. My ultimate goal was to try and make some conclusion that’s why I asked all of them the same questions.
Six of the eight politicians that replied were Flemish, of that four are ex-members of Volksunie, a party which no longer exists but now lives on in two separate parties: N-VA(Flemish nationalists) and SLP(Flemish socialists with liberal touch). I was especially surprised to see that Bart Staes of Groen! also belonged to the Volksunie in the old days. It makes me kind of curious to know how many Flemish politicians have their roots in this party.
The youngest candidate I questioned was Kathleen Van Brempt of sp.a (the Flemish socialists) she was 39. All the others are round and about 50-years-old. It’s clear that the parties choose to put forward people with life experience and political experience, but not all have experience at European level.
On the question of what there 3 main goals were, there were no surprises. Socially orientated parties wanted to work on social matters, Greens on green matters, nationalist parties laid focus on issues connected to Flanders, …
Tomorrow, at the 7th of June there are also regional elections in Belgium. One of my questions was whether their regional programme was very different from their European programme. Almost every party replied that the topics were more or less the same, but proposals were applied to the European level. The PS, the Wallonian socialist, were the only ones to put forward an united European programme. They have maid the programme of the Party of European Socialists (PES) their European programme.
On the question why people must vote for them there were no real original answers: hard worker, a lot of experience and of course because of their unique programme.
I wanted to test how deep the parties’ love and hate relationship with Europe is by asking which principle of the EU should be changed and which can’t ever be touched. As suspected two out of the three nationalist parties answered that the principle of subsidiarity is holy but not yet enough applied by the Union. Another popular answer was multilingualism. Things they would change was to give more power to the European Parliament (twice), more attention for social matters, the abolishment of the veto right (twice), downsizing of the European institutions, the abolishment of the monthly move to Strasbourg, … all were expectable answers. But I was surprised to see that the demand for the abolishment of the monthly move to Strasbourg only came up once. We are in a financial crisis you would think that saving money would be more on their mind.
Some parties are radically against the entry of Turkey in the Union. Others are in favour but hold of until the Turkey meets all conditions that were put forward by the EU. None of the parties questioned were in favour of an immediate entry.
The one thing they all agreed on was that Belgians do underestimate the importance of Europe and its Parliament. The politicians blame the media because they don’t report enough about it but at the same time they admit that it’s also the fault of the politicians themselves. Because when the EU takes popular measures the politicians take credit for it, but when unpopular measures are taken they shove the blame in the shoes of the EU. Oddly enough no one blames the citizens for just not having interest and I think that’s part of the problem too.
Finally I asked all candidates who they wanted to see in the seat of Barroso when they didn’t have to take the election results into account. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (PES) is the only one who was named more than once. Not only Jean-Claude Marcourt from the Wallonian socialist party (PS) nominated him, but also Isabelle Durant from Ecolo (the Wallonian greens) favours him. A bit of a surprise because I would have thought she would chose Daniel Cohn-Bendit seeing that Ecolo belongs to the Greens / European Free Alliance (EFA) group. But not all were brave enough to put a face and name on their favourite candidate. I’m just glad that eight of the twelve were brave enough to answer.