Home News The Bachelor has become a political issue in Belgium

The Bachelor has become a political issue in Belgium


In the United States, Donald J. Trump and Joe Biden can barely agree to debate on the same stage.

In Belgium, politicians Will face On Sunday, amid the country’s most hotly contested election in years, President Vladimir Putin agreed to film a four-episode reality show over the weekend, set in a castle with a moat.

The show is a political version of “The Bachelor” calledSecret meetingBelgians are watching intently on the eve of national and local parliamentary elections, which coincide with European Parliament elections this weekend, when 27 EU countries go to the polls.

As in many other European countries, Belgium’s mainstream political institutions have lost electoral weight. The far right is on the rise.

But for Belgium, the dynamic is further complicated by the divide between the country’s French-speaking southern Wallonia region and the Dutch-speaking northern Flemish region.

At the heart of the show is the personal dynamic between politicians who are rivals but ultimately have to work together to deal with the rise of the far right. Maybe by having them spend a few days together, some of their differences could be ironed out.

Regardless, the show succeeded in expressing the grievances that have put the far-right, anti-immigrant, Flemish separatist Flemish Interest party in the lead in the election. Its victory could spell a crisis for Belgium, as the question of Flemish independence will top the political agenda and threaten to split the country in two.

Whether the show succeeds in fostering real-world cooperation is another matter. Mainstream political parties have long struggled to unite at crucial moments, and Belgium is known for taking record time to form shaky multi-party coalitions.

The rapid rise of the Flemish Interest Party has made this task more urgent and difficult.

Against the backdrop of the stunning grounds and magnificent interiors of the medieval castle of Jemeppe Castle, journalist Eric Goens hosted seven prominent politicians from Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, in a “confidential meeting”.

They walked in the woods. They cooked. They ate together. They argued.

There are moments of conflict and reconciliation; awkward silences and barely concealed disgust; even an interview with a solitary confession in a church.

The seven include Flemish Interest leader Tom van Glicken, liberal current Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, and Petra De Sutter, a member of the Green Party, one of the country’s deputy prime ministers and the EU’s most senior transgender politician.

Vlaams Belang was one of the first of Europe’s far-right parties to capitalize on anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe. Originally called Vlaams Blok, the party advocated for second- and third-generation Belgian immigrants to return to their country of origin.

In 2004, the party was banned from participating in elections for violating Belgian anti-racism laws.

The party has since changed its name and image, but critics say not much else has changed. Belgium, a wealthy Nordic country of 11 million people, has a large immigrant community, including Muslims from North Africa, who remain a key target of the party.

This has led all other Belgian parties to vow never to govern with the Flemish Interest. The question is whether they can deliver on that promise if the Flemish Interest wins as expected in Sunday’s election.

Equally pressing is the party’s desire for Flanders (the northern region of Belgium where about 60% of the population lives) to secede from the Belgian federation and form its own state.

How to manage Mr van Glicken’s popularity is perhaps the most pressing issue facing Bart de Wever, who leads the New Flemish Alliance, a conservative Flemish nationalist party, and is one of the politicians who attended the “electoral conference”.

Mr van Glicken hopes the two parties can unite to form a Flemish government and use it as a springboard to eventually force Flemish independence.

De Wever also wants Flanders independence but calls secessionist plans a “fantasy”. He calls himself a pragmatist and his platform is to transfer more power from the Belgian federal government to regions such as Flanders.

The tension between the two men comes to a head in a fireside scene that’s filled with all the drama of a reality TV series.

It was late in the day and the laid-back Mr. Van Glicken was sitting outside by the fire pit when Mr. De Wever came out.

“Did you just make a fire here?” asked Mr. De Wever.

“Yeah, I’d like to ban these awakening books, Bart,” Mr. Van Glicken said, laughing.

“It looks like everyone’s asleep,” De Wever said, glancing around awkwardly.

“They don’t want to hang out with us, Bart,” Mr. Van Glicken said. “Your fate is that you always end up with me.”

This is a situation that all Belgian politicians want to avoid. Although De Wever also disdains the Flemish Interest Party, he has been vague and uncertain whether he will fulfill his vow never to cooperate with the party in governing.

In another scene, a fellow politician asks De Wever: Would he really collude with the Flemish Interest Party?

“I just said it, no,” De Wever finally admitted. “I can’t work with someone who doesn’t respect democracy. Sorry, that’s fundamental.”

The conversation foreshadows the intense negotiations that will almost certainly follow Sunday’s election. For viewers, the show offers a rare, untold look at the country’s tumultuous politics.

“Maybe you’ll start to understand why there’s so much tension between the first and second leaders,” Goins, the show’s host, said in an interview. “It’s profound, and you’d never see that in a normal debate.”

The Conclave shows that in Belgium, the divisions among leaders extend far beyond ideology. Past protracted post-election negotiations have also left deep scars.

Mr. De Croo, the current prime minister, and Mr. de Wever, both support liberal economic policies and one would think they would be natural political partners.

But during the last alliance talks, the two men clashed, with De Wever accusing De Croo of secretly undermining his power.

“I’m really not looking forward to this situation because there’s bad blood between us,” De Wever told the camera before confronting De Croo.

When the two men finally sat together, Mr. De Croo tried to convince him that this time they could join forces, but the conversation kept returning to old grudges.

“Collaboration requires a certain level of trust and reliability,” De Wever told De Croo. “That was completely missing.”

De Croo finally gave in. “You know, let’s just call it a day.”

“I feel like we’ve reached a point now where we say things that we regret,” DeWever said.

Mr. De Croo tried to end his speech on a positive note.

“I’m not a person with bad intentions,” he said. “If it’s about making our country stronger for all Belgians, not dividing our country, then we can work together.”

That remains to be seen.

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