With regional, federal and European parliamentary elections all taking place on Sunday 25 May 2014, Belgians face many decisions that will have a big impact on the future of their own country, and of Europe.
The last federal parliamentary elections – held in June 2010 – saw a Flemish separatist party, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), win in the north of the country, the Francophone Liberal Reformist Movement (MR) win in Brussels, and the Socialist Party (PS) win in Wallonia.
A world record-breaking 541 days passed before a new federal government could by formed (headed by Elio Di Rupo of the PS, and not featuring the N-VA). Further powers were devolved to the regions under a new state reform.
With the role of choice of European commissioner being seen in Belgium as equivalent to that of a federal minister, the post-election landscape may have to be defined a little faster this time than in 2010.
No politician from the Christian Democrat family has been appointed as commissioner since 1970, so the Flemish CD&V should, in principle, be in pole position. Yves Leterme, a former prime minister, is one of the names in the frame.
However, Karel De Gucht, the current Trade Commissioner, is thought to want to stay in the College – although this may depend on the success of his Flemish Liberal Open VLD party in the (federal) elections and the subsequent negotiations.
Paul Magnette, the Chairman of the PS and a former energy and climate change minister, is also thought to be interested.
As for the European Parliament elections, Marianne Thyssen, an MEP since 1991, will run again for the CD&V. Ivo Belet will stand down to run for a seat in the Flemish Parliament.
Guy Verhofstadt, the current leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group in the European Parliament, will run again, for the Open-VLD – possibly as the Liberal ‘figurehead’ candidate for the Commission presidency.
Among the Flemish Greens (Groen!), there is competition for a place in the European Parliament between Bart Staes (currently an MEP) and Wouter Van Besien (the party leader). For their Francophone counterparts, Isabelle Durant, a vice-president of the European Parliament, seems set to stand again, as does Philippe Lamberts (potentially sparking a race between the two for the top position).
Siegfried Bracke, a former journalist, is likely to stand for the N-VA, while Derk-Jan Eppink, Belgium’s only member of the ECR Group, will stand down (potentially causing some difficulties in the re-formation of that group).
For the Flemish Socialists (sp.a), their is a race between current MEP Kathleen van Brempt and former party leader Caroline Gennez.