Belga/Flip Franssen

What are the Flemish parties’ top priorities for the European elections?

On Sunday 26 May Belgians and EU nationals that have signed up to vote here will go to the polls to elect Belgium’s 21 representatives in the European Parliament. 12 of these will be elected from the Dutch-speaking Electoral College by voters in the five Flemish provinces and Brussels.  VRT News asked the Flemish parties standing in the European elections what their three top priorities are for the European Union during the forthcoming legislature. 

Climate is a recurring theme among the parties. However, their views on how the European Union can help stave off or at least slow down climate change differ. Social justice in Europe is another theme that a number of the parties believe is a priority.

Should Europe take more measures to ensure workers’ rights and combat poverty or should this be the task of national governments?

Taxation, security and democracy are also themes that the parties view as being important. 

Greater social justice in Europe

One of the main themes during the current campaign has been social justice and how this can be promoted in Europe.  

The far-left PVDA suggests using a football-style red card system whereby individual member states could block any measures that could lead to a deterioration in social conditions in one of more EU countries. The party is also in favour of an EU-wide minimum wage.

The Flemish Christian democrats want to continue the fight against social dumping and advocate “equal pay for equal work”. The European Commissioner and Flemish Christian democrat Marianne Thyssen has already introduced measures to ensure (some) social rights at a European Level and a European Labour Authority has also been set up. The European Labour Authority coordinates cooperation on labour mobility. The Flemish Christian democrats hope to work towards the establishment of a Europe-wide minimum wage during the next legislature.

The Flemish socialists call for the “European pillar of social rights” to become binding and for the establishment of a European minimum wage that would be equivalent to at least 60% of the median wage in the EU members states. The party also wants extra efforts to be made to combat social dumping and to encourage convergence between EU countries on issues such as employment rights and wages.

Meanwhile, the Flemish nationalists believe that social policy is a matter for national and regional government. However, the party does believe that Europe should take measures to combat what it describes as “welfare tourism”. The party also advocates equal pay for the same work in the same place. The nationalists say that those coming to work here from another EU country should only be able to do so under the pay, conditions and taxation regime of their home country for 6 months. Furthermore, social security contributions should be paid in the country in which a person works from day one.

The far-right Vlaams Belang doesn’t believe in a “social Europe” with a European social security system and minimum wage. The party says that the role of the EU should be purely one of economic cooperation with the single market at its heart.  Vlaams Belang stresses the crucial importance of the European free-trade zone for Flemish economy.

The pro-European citizens’ initiative Volt is in favour of investing in measures to help Europeans “gains skills for the 21st century” in order to protect them against the economic issues that arise from digitalisation and globalisation. The list’s EU “Volta Programme” proposes wide-ranging financial support for vocational training, including retraining and on-the-job training in order to acquire new skills.

"We need to arm our citizens against the challenges that arise from new technologies such as automation, robotisation and dataism, but also invest in artisanal and creative work”.   

Climate policy

Climate is one of the issues of the moment and this is clearly reflected in the parties’ manifestos for the European elections.

The Flemish greens say that a climate neutral Europe is a priority. One of the measures the party proposes to achieve this is the establishment of a European electricity grid that would allow for excess electricity produced from sustainable means to be sent from one country to another.

The Christian democrats also make a link between climate and energy. The party says that an integrated European policy on industry would help unite climate and energy with industry policy. The party cites the example of the European battery industry that must ensure that in the future we aren’t dependent on China for batteries to enable is to run electrically-powered cars.

The Flemish nationalists also believe that an energy union is one area in which greater European integration is desirable.  The party also believes that the EU should take on the role of negotiator at global climate conferences. The nationalists are in favour of what they say is an ambitious but realistic climate and energy policy.

The far-left PVDA and the Flemish socialists stress the social side to climate policy. PVDA doesn’t believe that the solution to the issue of climate change can be found in the free market. The party calls or an end to the existing European system that allows for trade in emissions rights (ETS). Under the system companies can purchase emission rights per tonne of CO2 that they emit.

The socialists want the ETS system to be scrapped, but want this to be linked to wider climate goals such as becoming CO2 neural.

Volt calls for the establishment of a “Circular Economy Hallmark” that would make the production chain more durable and promote the circular economy. Volt also believes that by 2025 4% of the EU’s GDP should go to research and development. It believes that this would fuel an economic renaissance in Europe. 

Taxation

Fair taxation is a priority for the greens and the socialists. Both parties believed that multi-nationals such be taxed in the same way as other smaller companies.

The greens believe in a stricter approach to tackling tax evasion and fiscal fraud.

"We must bring to an end the Dutch auction between the member states when it comes to tax”.

The party believes that this would give more fiscal breathing space to families and small and medium-sized businesses.

The socialists too are for fiscal harmonisation and a common European base level for corporation tax. Companies should be taxed in the member state in which they made their profits. 

Security and borders

The Flemish nationalists believe that Europe should better protect its external borders and should look after those seeking refugee status in a humane way in centres in countries near to the country that they have fled. Only those that have been granted refugee status should be allowed to come to Europe. The refugees would be shared out evenly over the member states.

However, even this much stricter system is not strict enough for Vlaams Belang. The party believes that it should be made possible for individual member states to reintroduce border checks. The party wants the Schengen agreements to be repealed and the Geneva Convention on refugees to be modified “to bring it up to date”.

The liberals want improvements to security both on the EU’s borders and within the European Union. Open VLD is in favour of a European FBI, a European army and a European border service and coast guard. The party believes that greater cooperation is necessary in order for the EU to acquire greater international credibility.

"Only by putting the pieces of the jigsaw together can we, for example, catch terrorists that know no borders”, the party’s manifesto reads. 

Democracy and transparency

The liberals believe that the EU should make greater efforts to defend European values and norms. Entitlement to EU subsidies for, for example, agriculture and EU structural development funding must therefore be linked to an acceptance of democracy and the European rule of law.

The Greens too believe that the defence of European values is important and believe that human rights are central to this.

The far-left PVDA wants to bring Europe closer to the people. The party also wants to prevent former EU Commissioners and MEPs from taking on high-ranking jobs with big companies within the first seven years of them leaving office. The party wants to half the salaries paid to commissioners and MEPs with an upper pay limit of 10,000 euro/month being introduced for the European Commissioners.

Volt goes further still and wants ordinary citizens to become involved in the European decision making process. Citizens’ platforms would be set up and the people would also be given a say in how the EU budget is spent. Volt also wants “real political EU-parties” to be set up to replace the current system of groups (sometimes consisting of parties that are not always ideological bedfellows) that currently exists in the European Parliament. Finally Volt wants the President of the European Council to be directly elected by the people. The European Parliament would chose a Prime Minister who would head a European Government.

The liberals want the European Union to become more decisive and more streamlined. The party wants the number of European Commissioners to be reduced to 12. It also want the unanimity rule in the European Council to be scrapped and more power to be given to the European Parliament.

Vlaams Belang want what it sees as “superfluous institutions” such as the European Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee and the European External Action Service to be abolished. The party believes the tasks entrusted to these institutions would be better carried out by the individual member states. 

What else do the parties say?

Something that stands out in the Flemish Christian Democrats’ manifesto is a call for the drafting of a European masterplan against cancer. This would involve the pooling of all data relating to cancer research. The party also calls for a doubling of the funding given to cancer research by 2024.

Vlaams Belang is against any further expansion of the European Union. The party calls for discussions about Turkey joining the EU to be put to bed for good.

The Flemish nationalists want the EU to have a more ambitious foreign policy. More trade agreements should be made with countries in the rest of the world.