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The Brief: Support for far-right party further divides Belgium, Socialists elect president

The Brief: Support for far-right party further divides Belgium, Socialists elect president
Copyright REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Copyright REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
By Shoshana Dubnow
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How is a far-right party further dividing Belgium? Will Germany be allowed to create a new motorway toll? Who is the next leader of the Social Democrats? All this and more on Tuesday's Brief from Brussels.

Belgium divided: Far-right Vlaams Belang gains support


The far-right Vlaams Belang (VB) party won with 23.9% of the votes in the city of Roeselare, located in the West Flanders region.

The party's supporters often speak about Islam, immigration and divisions in the country. Filip Deforche is a VB council member.

“Islam is a danger for the country, for all Europe, so we have to fight that," he said. "We have to fight Islam, but in a democratic manner, not with guns or violence."

In the Flemish region, the VB scored 18% of the votes and became the second force after Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (NV-A), a Flemish nationalist party. 

Wouter Vermeersch is another VB member and said his group is perceived incorrectly.

“I am not a Nazi," he said. "I am not a fascist. I am not any of these things that we are called. In fact, what we do is that we put our people first."

Resistance against mass immigration helped the VB campaign. Both legal and illegal immigration has recently surged in the Flanders region.

"The pace at which our region is getting more diverse is going too fast for us," Vermeersch said. "Not only for my political party, but also for other people, the inhabitants here. People experience that their cities are changing too fast."

Perception of insecurity was also a motive for many VB supporters.

“I don't see a future in Belgium as a country," said Remko Quidousse (VB). "I would like to see Flanders as a country of its own. I want to be a safe, working Flemish guy where it's possible to go out and have a drink or something without having to look behind you."

Flanders is the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, making up the largest part of the country's population at 68%. There is also an economic gap between Flanders and the French-speaking Wallonia region. Flemish productivity per capita is about 13% higher than Wallonia, and Flemish wages are about 7% higher.

VB is calling to stop giving subsidies in poor municipalities and declaring independence.

"If you are in a marriage and you only have to pay the bills and your spouse does not want to cooperate in any way anymore, then it's maybe better to get a divorce," Vermeersch said.

EU court rules against German motorway toll

A planned German motorway toll was declared against EU law by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Judges said the law was unfair because it targeted drivers from other member states. Germany wanted to introduce the annual 130 euro fee, but it faced objections from neighbours including Austria and the Netherlands. If it passed, German drivers would have had the fee cut from their car tax.

Social Democrats elect new leader

In the new term of the European Parliament, the Group of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) have decided on new leadership. S&D elected Spanish MEP Iratxe Garcia as their next chair on Tuesday.

Garcia ran unopposed after outgoing S&D leader Udo Bullmann decided to step down.

S&D remains the second largest group in Parliament after May's elections.


Renew Europe leader to be announced

The rebranded Renew Europe group, previously called ALDE, will elect its president on Wednesday. 

The group's three candidates are Fredrik Federley from Sweden, Dacian Ciolos from Romania and Sophie in t'Veld from Holland.

Renew Europe has 107 seats in the incoming European Parliament.

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