Elections 2024: Why Belgians are pro-EU, and yet see it as the enemy

“The EU is there only to defend the interests of industry.” “The EU Green Deal is killing industry.” “The EU gives all its money to farmers.” Belgians tend to see the EU as the defender of “the other side”. Despite their grievances, most of them remain supporters of the union.

As a small country in the centre of Europe, full of people from different cultures, it’s no surprise that Belgium has always been in favour of multilateralism. Belgium is a member – and most often a founder member – of every possible multilateral or international organisation.

The EU is by far the most important of those organisations. For Belgium, the EU is the leverage to protect its prosperity, its way of life, its standards and priorities, against stronger forces in the world.

Internal problems

But the EU is not only a solution for external problems. Increasingly, it’s also how Belgium handles its internal challenges. With growing differences between opposing groups, it becomes difficult to set out coherent policies. Simply following what the EU has set out is much easier for domestic politicians. Budget discipline is the clearest example: budget cuts are very unpopular, so most governments only pretend to choose them … unless, of course, they have to, because of EU rules.

Naturally, if the European level becomes that important, you want the EU to rule in line with your preferences. And that’s not straightforward, given the membership of 27 countries, with nearly half a billion inhabitants, all from different backgrounds and with different priorities.

There’s also a “sign of the times” element. For a long time, the EU was primarily an economic union with the interests of industry at heart. Then it became clear the EU had to take better care of the interests of workers and of citizens. And later, climate and environment climbed to the top of the priority list. In the last couple of weeks, there’s been a return of industry and agriculture.

Political boxing match

For political parties, discussions within the EU are the perfect ground to show what they stand for. What are the priorities? How much money do we attribute to each of the many priorities?

As a result, you might expect the elections for the European Parliament on 9 June ​ to attract a lot of attention. But most voters in Belgium still don’t feel close to the EU. They don’t know or understand the decision-making process, they don’t feel like the EU has a direct influence on their lives. In a general climate of disinterest in politics, the European level is the biggest victim.

Politics is evolving to become nothing more than a boxing match, with a limited number of well-known politicians fighting each other, with media that follow every blow. When this is how people see politics, the EU is simply too complex, too distant.

So although most Belgians are in favour of the EU, and although most Belgians have an idea about how the EU should change, interest in the EU elections remains even lower than interest in the national and regional elections taking place the same day.


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


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