Belgian Socialist Party: the Hard Way

The Belgian Socialist Party held an extraordinary congress last week. This meeting was crucial to try to save one of the major parties in Belgium.

Being socialist across Europe is quite a big deal today. If you have a look at the political landscape in the European Union, the socialist movements are not as powerful as they used to be a couple of years ago. The French Socialist Party indeed collapsed at the last Presidential elections and no one knows about its future. The Labour (UK) is not that good after the Brexit was voted and it does not seem the SPD and Martin Schulz will win the German general elections in September.

As Belgium has always been a good picture of what is going on in Europe and in the EU, the Kingdom is no exception with this regard in 2017. Over the last months, the Socialist Party was involved in some scandals, as well as in a political shift in Wallonia which have made it weaker and weaker.

The last big episode of this political tangle has been held last month, when the CDH (Christian party) decided to leave the coalition they have been used to participating with the Socialist party in Wallonia. The French-speaking region could then be paralysed, and the need to find a new government in Wallonia will be a very hard issue for the Socialist party.

A couple of days ago, a survey (the study was asked by the conservative party – MR) revealed that the Socialist party would be the third party in Wallonia (and the 5th in Brussels Region!), if the Brusselians and Walloons were called to the polls today. The political failure in the Walloon government is of course not the main reason why the people do not trust the left-wing movement today. It is even maybe a consequence of all what happened over the last months. If you remember well, Yvan Mayeur, the former mayor of Brussels, had to leave his office as he was involved in the “Samusocial” scandal. This is why Yvan Mayeur also resigned from the Socialist party at the end of June.

Although he is not involved in political scandals, Philippe Close, the new mayor of Brussels, has been holding several mandates for years, which can make trust weak in populist periods as the Western countries have been experiencing for a couple of years.

The Publifin scandal that was revealed in December 2016 also affected the socialist party, although Paul Magnette, the Minister-President of Wallonia, had got sympathy from left-wing supports at the end of last year when he decided to postpone the signature of CETA agreement.

The socialist party is now looking for solutions (if there still are some) to escape that trend and to regain trust from the Belgian citizens. Elio Di Rupo’s leadership (head of the Socialist party) has been debated and questioned by some experts. The party decided to set up a political congress, which was held on the 2nd of July in Lacs de l’Eau-d’Heure. The members then voted some measures to make the officials and political leaders more responsible. Mayors (and deputy mayors) will not have the right to combine revenues from their position and a MP position. A MP will not be allowed anymore to hold a mandate of mayor or deputy mayor in a city which has more than 50,000 inhabitants. The other mandates that will be held by a mayor or a MP will also be controlled in the future.

The crisis is probably deep in the Socialist Party and it will need time to completely recover from what happened over the last months. But if it manages well its internal reforms, it probably can remain a major political party in the Belgian political landscape.