Belgians; expatriates; migrants; external voting; expatriate voting; absentee voting; Belge; expatrié; droit de vote; Belgen; buitenland; expats; verkiezingen; Belgie; Vlamingen
[en] The Belgian emigrants’ political participation in home country politics is an issue that has undergone several important developments since the end of the 1990s but has surprisingly been subject to very little research. The absence of the issue of emigration from the Belgian political agenda combined with the limited engagement of this population with the home country thus stands for the absence of research on the topic. The lack of academic interest, in turn, has favoured the development of two major stereotypes in Belgium with respect to the political preferences of citizens residing abroad. One is that the Belgian population abroad would tend to be more favourable to right-wing parties than the average Belgian citizens. This stereotype has long explained why the Francophone liberal party (PRL later called MR) has been most active in supporting the enfranchisement of citizens abroad for legislative elections. The second stereotype, to which we will devote most of our attention in this article, supposes that Belgians abroad would be unaffected by the political tensions opposing Flemish and Francophone political parties in Belgium over the past decade.
Despite the fact that over the past forty years Belgian politics have been increasingly dominated by the ethnic tension between Flemings and Francophones, the stereotype that Belgians abroad would be unaffected by these developments has remained. The idea that the evolution towards greater regional autonomy defended by political parties (with more intensity in Flanders than in French-speaking Belgium) would not find echo among Belgians abroad is thus very prevalent and is still frequently propagated by the press. In this article, I however question this idea that the political opinions of Belgians abroad would be unaffected by the evolution of the ethnic conflict between Flemings and Francophones and argue instead that the evolution of the ethnic conflict has led to the parallel division of the Belgian political opinion abroad. Belgian emigrants are not more supportive of the Belgian unitary state model than Belgian citizens residing in Belgium.
To support this argument, I will proceed to the following analysis. After a brief presentation of the socio-demographic profile of the Belgian emigrant population, I first proceed to a discussion on the creation of the two main Belgian emigrant associations to demonstrate how the tension between Flemings and Francophones was a crucial variable in the creation and development of these organizations. Second, I discuss the adoption of the two external voting laws to illustrate how the anticipated impact of emigrant voters has steered controversies on the territorial border between Flemish and French-speaking areas of Belgium. This situation, I argue, has contributed to further the distinction between Flemish and French-speaking Belgians abroad. Third, comparing the evolution of national legislative elections in 2003, 2007 and 2010, I argue that the success of Flemish nationalist parties in Flanders has followed a similar pattern among Flemish voters abroad.
Research center :
Centre d'Études de l'Ethnicité et des Migrations - CEDEM
Sociology & social sciences
Author, co-author :
Lafleur, Jean-Michel ; Université de Liège - ULiège > Institut des sciences humaines et sociales > Centre d'études de l'ethnicité et des migrations (CEDEM)
Exporting Ethnic Divisions? The Political Participation of Belgian Citizens Abroad
Publication date :
26 May 2011
Number of pages :
Event name :
IMISCOE Conference on "Migrants and External Voting in the EU: New Prospects and Challenges for Research and Policy-making"