An incentive to vote?

29th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

Debating whether foreign residents feel that their vote counts in Belgium, Expatica's editor is accused of Flemish bias and told to clean up his act.

Foreigners in Belgium are simply not interested in voting at the 8 October local elections, Flemish Interior Minister Marino Keulen has (triumphantly?) exclaimed.


The Liberal VLD minister said the idea of immigrant voting rights only excited the intellectuals rather than immigrants, denying that an information campaign would have boosted voter registration figures.

He might be right.

But two political scientists have since concluded otherwise.

In a recent report in newspaper 'De Standaard', the Catholic University of Leuven academics said the effort (or lack thereof) that municipal councils put into the registration drive was to blame for the poor registration figures.

In Flanders, for example, Liberal mayors were reluctant to convince non-EU nationals (who had been in the country for a minimum of five years) to register as voters. Once registered, it became compulsory for them to vote.

In total, just 17,065 non-EU nationals registered to vote by the 31 July deadline, representing just 15.71 percent of eligible voters.

But the academics pointed out the regional differences, stressing that in Brussels and Wallonia - where active registration campaigns were waged - the registration figures were better.

In Brussels, 15.66 percent of the eligible non-EU voters registered to vote and 21.3 percent in Wallonia. In Flanders, a figure of just 12.62 percent was recorded.

They also say municipal differences within Flanders indicate factors other than disinterest were at work.

In Liere and Herentals, more than 40 percent of eligible voters registered, compared with municipalities such as Lokeren, Zaventem or Mechelen where figures of less than 4 percent were recorded.

Furthermore, municipalities that place particular attention on integration - either with an integration alderman / woman or an integration service - performed better.

Ultimately, party politics played a role as well. In municipalities where a Socialist SP.A mayor was at the helm, the registration rate was 4 percent higher than municipalities where a Liberal VLD mayor presided over the council.

The SP.A supported immigrant voting rights, while the VLD was fiercely opposed.

In summing up, the Leuven researchers said it was a pity that the introduction of a fundamental democratic right fell prey to party politics. They urged for a more uniform registration process in future.

And the study also lends us the thought that if Belgium (and more specifically Flanders) genuinely wants to integrate immigrants into society, than persuading them to vote is a vital component of that campaign.

The Expatica Belgium editor writes a new diary entry every week. Want to read more?
To be fully integrated into society, you have to believe that your vote will count and is in fact wanted. If not, then why integrate at all?

It is one thing for society to demand integration, but offering immigrants something to integrate into is another.

And for those who wish to integrate: your vote is one way of showing it. Without a voice, your presence counts for nothing.

It is not the fault of one, but a two-way affair.

Aaron Gray-Block
Expatica Belgium

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29 August 2006


Dear sir,

I, for my part, am an expatriate and have been in the country for 17 years. In other democratic countries - like in Denmark where I come from - I have voting rights, but no voting obligation. This - and only this - keeps me and my wife from registering here in Belgium.

Kind regards,


Dear Mr Gray-Block,
Yet again, having read Expatica, I see in your diary that Expatica Belgium has changed, and it is now, Expatica Flanders!
I must admit, I have a problem in that I expect journalists will try to be as unbiased as possible and publish the news for everyone (I realise being 100 percent without bias is impossible). However, you appear to have forgotten half of the population! You are always biased to the Flemish and against any articles where you decide you really should mention those poor old folks in the French region (a heck of a lot of expats by the way who want and need your news). And even when you do, apparently the names of towns are non-existant in French, only apparently in Flemish. 

I bring your attention to an article a few weeks back on a survey of where Belgians like to holiday in Belgium. Apparently they like the Andennes? 

Also, you failed to mention until days after the event the [Flemish Premier Yves] Leterme comment in which he called all Francophones living in the 'commune facilities' around Brussels incapable of learning Flemish. Is this also part of your bias to try not to enrage the French-Belgian and non-French Belgian in those very same communes and those in Brussels by showing them yet again the endemic racism that is apparent in Flanders now? 
Can you at least try and appear to be an unbiased journalist? It is, I think, something you should do or give up journalism. Sooner or later, you'll drive all your readership away!
H. Stewart
English-speaking expatriate


Editor replies

Dear H. Stewart,

Thanks for your comments.

I regret the fact you feel Expatica is biased towards the Flemish community, but categorically dismiss such allegations. Expatica is an independent news organisation committed to supplying expats in Belgium with unbiased nationwide news coverage. 

The article you refer to, Dampened holiday plans, quoted a study indicating that the Ardennes and Belgian coastline were the two favourite domestic holiday locations for Belgian nationals. The findings were initially published by news agency Belga.  

With regard to the furore around the comments from Yves Leterme (French speakers 'incapable' of learning Dutch), the Expatica article appeared at the same time as similar articles did in the Belgian media.

Expatica has frequently reported on the linguistic conflict and the problem with racism in Flanders and Wallonia. I refer you to the following two articles: How to stop the extremists and A union turning sour?

However, your opinion has been noted and I will endeavour in future to include more content from the Francophone region.

Best regards,
Aaron Gray-Block


[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Editor's diary

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