Belgian political parties spent nearly €5 million on advertising on Facebook in 2022, reports RTBF. This level of spending is 2.5 times more than what Dutch parties spent on municipal elections in the Netherlands.
Specifically, €4,999,583 was spent by major Belgian political parties this year on Facebook and Instagram advertisements, up 6% compared to last year, according to figures published by the Adlens collective. Political parties mostly finance political advertising through tax payer money, in the form of state finances awarded to political parties.
Political extremes dig deep
The Flemish nationalist parties N-VA and Vlaams Belang are the biggest political spenders in Belgium, having spent together just under €3 million out of the total €4,999,583. The top two parties spent 58% of the total amount spent by all parties.
The biggest spender was the N-VA, who spent €1,715,490 last year, followed by Vlaams Belang (€1,168,483), PTB/PVDA (€446,646), Open VLD (€336,781), Groen (€301,966), and Vooruit (€286,751
In a comment to RTBF, Jean Faniel, Director of the Centre for Socio-Political Research and Information (CRISP), said that it was no coincidence that Flemish nationalists were the biggest spender on social media.
“The two Flemish nationalist parties alone disbursed 58% of the total amount. They are among the most powerful electorally and the best represented in the Chamber. As a result, their public grants are among the largest,” he said.
The strongest increase in spending was recorded for the French-speaking Socialist Party (PS), who spent 70% more on social media advertising than last year. Nevertheless, in absolute terms, the socialists invested five times less into social media than French liberals MR (Mouvement Réformateur).
Flemish liberals Open VLD increased their advertising expenditure on Facebook by 46%. Notably, MP Egbert Lachaert’s page has seen an uptake in spending, in a bid to elevate his status next to current Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
Other parties tightened their belts on social media advertising last year, while still retaining an important ranking among social media advertisers. Brussels regionalists Défi and radical left PTB/PVDA reduced their overall expenditure, while still remaining big spenders.
Flemish nationalists remain king
Reinout Van Zandycke, political communication expert, noted that the level of spending by the N-VA and Vlaams Belang was “abnormal.” Another expert said that the funding of Flemish nationalist parties was similar to that enjoyed by multinationals or large brands.
Much of Vlaams Belang’s electoral success can be attributed to its mastery of social media advertising. On its official Facebook page, Vlaams Belang boasts over 600,000 followers. For reference, ruling party Open VLD has just 183,000 followers.
Vlaams Belang uses a series of clever advertising campaigns built around popular single-issue themes, such as opposition to the Good Move Plan in Brussels, to encourage those clicking on campaigns to unknowingly sign up to their Facebook page and mailing lists.
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Despite greater increases in spending by French-speaking parties and politicians, Flanders remains king in terms of social media advertising, accounting for 90% of spending. Despite bilingual PTB/PVDA leader Raoul Hedebouw, all of the top 10 most funded politician pages in 2022 were Flemish. Vlaams Belang leader Tom Van Grieken spent €363,623 on promotion of his personal page.
Towards a limit on party propaganda?
The Constitution and Institutional Renewal Committee in the Belgian House of Representatives is currently discussing new rules on party finances, and in particular, possible budgetary limitations for party propaganda on social media.
Currently, parties are free to spend their government endowments as they see fit, except during the four months running up to an election.
According to a survey conducted by RTBF in October 2021, only the three biggest spending social media spenders were opposed to a cap on advertising spending. Federal political party endowments are only set to increase this year, as a result of indexation.
This year, experts predict that parties will only increase social media spending in the run-up to the 2024 Federal elections.