Across language borders: Flemish Green MP to stand for election in Wallonia

Across language borders: Flemish Green MP to stand for election in Wallonia
Groen MP Kristof Calvo. Credit: Belga/Jasper Jacobs

As Flemish nationalism continues to go from strength to strength in Belgian politics, an increasing number of politicians are now crossing Belgium's linguistic borders hoping to appeal to different regions – for different reasons.

This week, the current Federal MP for the Flemish Green Party (Groen), Kristof Calvo, announced he will stand on the federal list for his Francophone sister party (Ecolo) in Hainaut at the June 2024 elections.

The transfer from a Flemish to a Walloon list is part of Groen and Ecolo's proposal to establish a federal constituency for the Federal elections. Calvo already talked about a similar move in 2018, but it is only now coming to fruition, he announced via social media.

"This country needs politicians who work together, build bridges, think and work from Ostend to Arlon and from Mechelen to Charleroi," he said in a video, in which he speaks both French and Dutch. "That is why a federal constituency is really necessary. In the meantime, I will apply it myself and show the way."

The switch to a list of its sister party was made in consultation with Groen co-leader Jeremie Vaneeckhout and fits in with the green parties' plea to introduce a federal constituency.

"The fact that [Calvo], with his federal experience, will join the campaign in Hainaut is entirely in line with our philosophy of working better together, across the language border," Vaneeckhout told Belga News Agency. "We are going for a well-functioning country with strong regions working together in a strong Belgium."

In May 2023, after missing out on a ministerial position in the current Federal Government, Calvo announced that he would quit national politics in favour of focusing on the local level in the city of Mechelen, where he lives.

Belgium's future at stake

"I do not aspire to get a parliamentary seat at all, but I do want my voice to be heard in the political debate," he said on Flemish radio. "My message is one of working together. On 9 June, the future of our country is at stake."

"These are very important elections that give direction to the future of Belgium," Calvo said. "You do not have to chase a ministerial post to have an impact. If you want to make this country work, you have to have people who want to work together."

The province of Hainaut will be an interesting province to keep an eye on during the elections on the French-speaking side of the country: three party leaders are on the lists: Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR), Paul Magnette (PS) and Jean-Marc Nollet (Ecolo). In the same province, former MR member and Walloon Minister Jean-Luc Crucke is also on a list of Les Engagés.

MR leader Bouchez next to his Dutch slogan (left) and N-VA leader De Wever. Credit: Belga

Calvo's decision follows previous reports of other politicians stepping over Belgium's long-established language border in the run-up to the elections in June.

In early December, the Flemish separatist N-VA party announced that it is planning to stand for election in Wallonia. The move raised some eyebrows across the entire country, as N-VA has always strongly focused on Flemish interests and has never been shy about its criticism of Wallonia.

Just a few days later, N-VA's announcement was followed by another unexpected move by the Francophone liberal MR party, whose leader Georges-Louis Bouchez headed to Antwerp to campaign in front of De Wever's city hall.

With a Dutch slogan stating In Wallonië heb je 50 tinten links. En ons. ("In Wallonia you have 50 shades of leftists. And us."), Bouchez was aiming to show De Wever that MR stands apart from the Francophone Socialist Party (PS). a possible signal for upcoming discussions about rejoining forces for a government coalition after ruling (with Open VLD and CD&V) between 2014-2019, under the leadership of Prime Minister Charles Michel.

Living in Flanders, but on an electoral list in Wallonia – is that allowed?

While the general rule of thumb is that a person has to live in the region in which they are running for election, this is not always the case.

It can often depend on the type of election (e.g. federal or regional) the person is participating in, the Directorate of Elections of the Federal Home Affairs Ministry said on its website.

Candidates for the federal elections (the House of Representatives, also called the Chamber) do not have to live in the constituency in which they are standing for election. The only stipulation is that they must be domiciled in Belgium. In Calvo's case, this means that there is no problem and he can live in Mechelen while still being a candidate for the Chamber in the province of Hainaut.

Candidates for regional elections, on the other hand, do have to live in the region for which they are on a list, but not necessarily in the same province. For example, someone who wants to stand for the Flemish Parliament in the province of Antwerp must live in Flanders, but not specifically in Antwerp – one of the other Flemish provinces would also work.

This means that should Calvo want to be on the regional electoral list in Hainaut, he would have to move to Wallonia. This would not have to be the province of Hainaut specifically but could be anywhere in the Walloon region.

Candidates for the municipal elections must live in the electoral district where they will be on a list. In Calvo's case, this means that he can only appear on a list in Mechelen if he continues to live there. The same goes for the provinces: participants must live in the province where they want to sit on the provincial council.

Candidates for the European Parliament do not have to live in Belgium, and do not even have to have Belgian nationality. The only requirement is that they are an EU national and live in an EU country (this does not have to be the same country).

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