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.
Mathieu Grosch, the only representative of the German community to have sat in the European Parliament, has decided not to stand at the next elections.