Elections 2024: In Belgium, does voting actually matter?

There may be countless election campaigns, manifestos, debates between candidates, extensive coverage in the media – but will the 9 June elections in Belgium really make a difference? There are many reasons why votes for the Belgian and regional parliaments won’t make much of a difference. But the difference there can be justifies going to the polling stations.

Voters and politicians all have their wishes and promises, but there are some important facts they have to take into account. One of those is that Belgium is in a very bad budgetary situation. The overall debt and deficit of all the authorities is unsustainable, to say the least. The national government has a huge debt. At regional level, debts are smaller, but the deficits are such that there has to be a rebalancing between income and expenses. ​

This leaves many of the politicians’ pre-election promises hollow. After the huge spending to limit the damage caused by Covid and rising energy prices after the invasion of Ukraine, it’s now time to cut back. And there are no economic reasons to postpone budget cuts.

EU decisions

A second fact is the growing influence of the European Union on nearly all aspects of public life. Member states, of course, have their say in what the EU decides, but once decided, those same member states have to follow. EU legislation on climate and environment is a particular headache for Belgium, a country that is densely populated and has a large industrial and logistical sector.

Just like the EU as a whole, Belgium and its regions will have to find the right balance between economy and ecology. More concretely, how much can an Industrial Deal change the Green Deal? The major principles may be decided in Brussels, but it’s the Brussels of the EU, not of Belgium.

Ukraine is another factor that will limit the freedom of the next national and regional governments. Belgium will have to invest much more into its army and increase military production capacity.

An old phenomenon is illegal immigration. With every conflict or disaster, migration to European countries grows – and as the crisis in Belgium’s asylum reception service has shown, that’s increasingly hard to manage. There’s now a new factor: with the ageing of society, Belgium needs people to fill its work force. The next governments will have to find ways to appropriately manage immigration and attract the migrants they need.

What, and how

So, the politicians probably won’t admit it, but the programmes of the next federal and regional governments are already largely determined by reality. However, there are two main choices to be made: how ambitious will those governments be, and how do they intend to reach the goals they need to reach.

On rebalancing the public finances: how much extra taxation will there be, and how much will come from budget cuts? Where will those cuts be found? Who will have to pay – the most – to erase public deficit and debt?

And on structural reforms: how much courage will governments have to push through changes that are unpopular in the short term but necessary for the long term? And how exactly do you reconcile ecology and economy? How do you reorganise the labour market?

If you think this fine-tuning is important, then voting matters. But if you think it doesn’t change much, the elections are largely irrelevant.

This weekend, Belga English reflects on the upcoming elections. This is the first article in a series of three.


#FlandersNewsService | From right to left: Flemish PM Jan Jambon, federal PM Alexander De Croo and EC president Ursula von der Leyen ​ ©BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM

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