'Divide cannot continue': Belgium needs a federal constituency, say Flemish Liberals

'Divide cannot continue': Belgium needs a federal constituency, say Flemish Liberals
Flemish liberals: Egbert Lachaert (left), Patrick Dewael (middle), Alexander De Croo. Credit: Belga

The Flemish liberal Open Vld party wants a federal constituency for Belgium, meaning that all voters could vote for the same electoral lists throughout the entire country, instead of just in Flanders or Wallonia.

Currently, political parties can theoretically be active in every electoral district in the country, but they usually only campaign in all of Flanders or all of French-speaking Belgium, in practice. This means that Walloons can only vote for French-speaking parties, while Flanders residents can only do so for Flemish parties.

"This means that Alexander De Croo, as Prime Minister of the entire country, does not have to account for any of his actions in French-speaking Belgium, because nobody there can vote for him," leader of the Flemish liberals Egbert Lachaert pointed out.

Together with Federal MP for Open Vld Patrick Dewael, Lachaert is submitting a bill to introduce a Federal electoral district, in which 20 of the 150 seats in the Federal Parliament would be filled by national candidates, reports De Standaard.

"The current system rewards politicians from one Region who are as tough as possible on the other Region," Dewael told the newspaper. "But that causes a negative spiral that leads to a blockage."

Unique in its kind

Federal MPs are usually not elected at a national level in other countries, but that is not an argument against a federal constituency in Belgium, according to Open Vld.

"Belgium is unique in its kind, with a dual federalism that almost automatically pulls the country apart," Dewael said. "We are also the only federal country without federal parties; in Germany, for instance, they still exist."

He added that while polls show that voters do not lose any sleep over "the regional squabbles" between Flanders and Wallonia, "those squabbles are the reason why socio-economic discussions are so difficult to put on the table."

Still, a federal constituency would go against the trend of the past state reforms – meaning that many are doubting that the proposal would actually lead to more cohesion in Belgium.

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For Lachaert, however, the long process of forming the Federal Government – which saw Belgium breaking its own record – as well as the Covid-19 crisis led to the realisation that the "reasoning of divide in this country cannot continue."

In the meantime, Federal MP for the Flemish ecologists Groen Kristof Calvo has spoken out in favour of the Liberals' proposal, saying that it is "a positive development" that the Prime Minister's party is now openly calling for this.

"A federal constituency is indeed necessary to make our Belgian democracy work better. As Greens, we have long been in favour of a federal constituency," he told Belga News Agency. "Belgium is desperate for more cooperation and dialogue. A federal constituency can help achieve this."

Now, the question is whether the proposal will get the required two-thirds majority in the Federal Parliament to be passed. However, there is no majority for it among Flemish parties, as the separatist and far-right Vlaams Belang, rightwing N-VA and Christian democrats CD&V have already opposed it, reports De Morgen.

Still, the article of the constitution concerned has been declared "open to revision," which means that a vote could still take place during this legislature.

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