Executive summary

AuthorOuhnaoui, Hania; Bribosia, Emmanuelle; Navasartian, Areg; Rorive, Isabelle
1. Introduction
In Belgium, which has a population of 11 million, the main religion is Roman Catholicism
(50 %). Other religious groups are Muslims (5 %), Anglicans, Protestant and Orthodox
Christians (2.5 %), persons of Jewish faith (0.4 %) and Buddhists (0.3 %). In addition,
nearly 42 % of people identified themselves as non-believers, among which 10 % claim to
be atheists.1 Due to its history and the fact that it houses most of the EU institutions,
Belgium is very cosmopolitan. There are no official numbers on the ethnic composition of
the country, other than numbers on the different nationalities. According to two different
studies, around 25 % of the population are of foreign origin (compared to 10 % who are
of foreign nationality). The biggest minorities are Moroccans, Italians, French, Turks, and
Dutch.2 Belgium is a representative democracy with a bicameral parliament. The official
head of state is the King (Philippe, since 21 July 2013) whose main functions are formal
(i.e. signing federal laws, largely symbolic role in forming the federal Government). The
Prime Minister is the leader of the Government. The Government always consists of a
coalition of different political parties since there are a multitude of parties that get elected
to Parliament.
The Belgian state system is divided into three levels: the federal state, the regions and
communities. This federal structure has been, and still is, a complicating factor in the
implementation of anti-discrimination law, because of the uncertainties concerning the
division of competences between the different parts. The sociological and political context
is also different in each part of the country. While the French-speaking part of the country
(the French Community, Walloon Region and, to a large extent, the Brussels Capital
Region) has traditionally chosen a more formal and individual model of combating
discrimination close to the French model, the Dutch-speaking part (Flemish Region and
Community) has been more willing to promote equal treatment through statistical
monitoring and to allow for affirmative action schemes. The stakes are also higher in the
Flemish Region and Community, because of some significance in that part of the country
of the Vlaams Belang (VB), a far-right, populist nationalistic political party, with recurrent
xenophobic tendencies, especially regarding the integration of the Muslim community in
Belgian society. Its representation allows this party to influence the debates on issues such
as the integration of migrants or the wearing of headscarves by Muslim women in schools
or in employment. In recent years, the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), a right-wing party
with very strict views on policies such as immigration, gained many votes from VB electors3
and in 2014, became, for the first time, part of the federal Government. During the federal,
regional and European elections of 26 May 2019, these parties gained momentum. N-VA
remains the biggest party, and the far -right party Vlaams Belang came in second place.
Almost one Flemish voter out of two voted for a nationalist and/or far-right party. On the
other hand, the Belgium far-left party (Parti du Travail de Belgique/Partij Van de Arbeid
PTB/PVDA) also gained popularity. They went from 2 to 12 representatives in the chamber,
mainly from Wallonia. The bipolarisation between an increasingly right-wing Flanders and
an increasingly left-wing Wallonia makes it difficult to form a federal Government. This has
led to another major political crisis; the federal Government has been a caretaker
Government since 18 December 2018.
1 There are no official figures available in Belgium. These come from an academic study: V oyé, L.,
Dobbelaere, K. and Abts, K. (eds.) (2012) Autres temps, autres moeurs, Brussels, Racine-Campus. In 2015,
the European Commission published Eurobarometer 437: Discrimination in the EU in 2015, which presents
the same figures.
2 Study carried out by Myria (2015), ‘Immigré, étranger, Belge d’origine étrangère: de qui parle-t-on?’
(Immigrant, foreigner, Belgian of foreign origin: who are we talking about?), Myriatics, December 2015,
available in French: www.myria.be/files/Myriatics2__layout.pdf.
3 https://www.hln.be/nieuws/binnenland/vlaams-belang-haalde-nieuwe-kiezers-vooral-bij-n-va ~aa676d40/.
This news article (on the federal elections of 26 May 2019) cites a study by iVox which shows that voters
move between Vlaams Belang and N-VA, including during the elections of 2014.

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