Elections 2024: Expat perspectives on Belgian politics: Peter de Groot

While a move from the Netherlands to Belgium is not a staggering geographical feat, it brings with it a shift in culture and politics. Peter de Groot, 66, made that move with his family when he was 10, settling in Limburg and eventually landing in Antwerp, working as an architect and financial advisor. Having spent most of his life in Belgium, he has witnessed how the political landscape has shifted. In the upcoming elections, he hopes to see the environment and immigration policies treated with more care.

Although de Groot has spent the majority of his life in Belgium and is married to a Belgian, he does not hold Belgian citizenship. For him, this doesn't affect how he identifies culturally. “I don’t feel Dutch. I sometimes feel Belgian, but mostly I feel European,” he says. This sentiment seeps into his stance on elections in each of the countries he has called home when he affirms that he does not feel aligned with Belgian or Dutch political parties.

Having not participated in the municipal or European elections prior, de Groot recently registered to vote in Belgium for the first time. He cannot vote in the Belgian federal elections but believes the balance must be tipped in “the right direction” for the future of the European Union.

Focus on environment

For de Groot, the environment is at the top of the list when it comes to voting. He hopes the EU will work harder to protect and take care of nature. On a more local scale, he points to Antwerp’s lack of green spaces and would like to see fewer regulations around people engaging with nature. For example, he hopes that open-air swimming will be deregulated in Belgium as it is in the Netherlands. As far as local political offerings are concerned, he remains unconvinced of the choices on offer, saying: “If I had to pick a party, Groen is the lesser evil.”

Immigration and the job sector

Having worked on construction sites as an architect, he has seen first-hand how vital it is to have immigrants filling jobs. “The job market is screaming for people in many sectors and needs people from different parts of Europe or outside of Europe,” he says. “Why don’t politicians figure this out? It’s so simple. We need jobs filled, so let immigrants in with a focus on political policy that streamlines this in a way where we can screen and also house people who want to move to this country and contribute to the workforce.”

While immigration is a much-contested topic within Belgian right-wing parties, de Groot points out that this trend is also happening in the rest of the EU. He believes this shift is a result of failed potential by previous politicians.

“I do not think that all people necessarily vote for the right-wing because of their ideologies, rather it is a protest vote against the parties that have held office for so long and have not done a good job. It is the same as Trump being elected in the United States,” he says.

"The people will make the change. They will be fed up with politicians putting pressure on the political system"

The advice he would give right-wing politicians is to reflect on the recent history of World War II, warning that a return to this narrative would cause complete devastation in Europe.

Another trend he opposes is the idea of splitting Belgium into two parts, preferring instead a unified country. “The government has made it so complicated for Flemish people to vote for a Walloon party in the federal elections and vice versa. This is not democratic,” he says, pointing out the broken link between Walloon and Flemish politicians.

De Groot is disillusioned with political parties. “There is no significant difference if it is an election on a local or national level. It’s all politics,” he says. While he will vote this year, he does not believe there are any politicians or parties that are capable of making a big change.

“The people will make the change,” he says. “They will be fed up with politicians putting pressure on the political system, and those politicians will be forced out because supporters will not continue to vote for them. Politicians should be community builders and they aren’t any more.”



#FlandersNewsService | © Hannah Moss

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