Flemish far right bets on 'historic' Belgian vote on June 9

Around 2,500 people came together for the nationalist Vlaams Belang rally in Antwerp, northern Belgium (Simon Wohlfahrt)
Around 2,500 people came together for the nationalist Vlaams Belang rally in Antwerp, northern Belgium (Simon Wohlfahrt)

Belgium's far-right Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang party vowed Sunday to score a stunning victory in next weekend's elections and become the leading political force in the Dutch-speaking north.

"We have a date with history," said the party -- allied with France's National Rally and Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders -- during a rally in Antwerp, north Belgium.

Buoyed by Wilders' recent success in The Netherlands, some 2,500 fired-up supporters and politicians came together for the party's final big rally.

Belgians will elect a new federal parliament, regional parliaments and members of the European Parliament all on June 9.

Vlaams Belang (VB), leading the polls in Flanders with 27 percent, could dethrone the conservative New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) in Belgium's most populous region.

The nationalist party hopes it can force the alliance, which has led the regional government for 10 years, to form a coalition and win independence for Flanders.

Despite those ambitions expressed Sunday, experts say a break-up is unlikely.

"Flanders is ours and should always remain so," Britt Huybrechts, the party's top candidate in Brabant province, shouted from the podium.

Showing that far-right views are not limited to the older generation, the 24-year-old former leader of a nationalist students' organisation received praise from the audience for linking immigration with criminality.

Vlaams Belang supporters jubilantly pointed to Wilders' "great electoral victory" in late 2023 in the neighbouring Netherlands.

- 'Real change' -

His success gives a clear reason to hope, said Joris Ywein, 28, an assistant for VB in the Flemish parliament.

"In The Netherlands they always said Wilders cannot form a government, he is too extreme, he is too radical. Absolutely not!" Ywein said, pointing to the fact that Wilders had now formed a coalition government.

"He has a partner for real change with the Vlaams Belang," said Ywein, running for a regional parliament seat.

VB leader Tom Van Grieken was the last to take to the stage and received a standing ovation as he proclaimed himself the "inevitable" leader.

"If we get close to 30 percent and they (N-VA alliance) have 20-22 percent, they will be forced to form an alliance because their voters are mostly in favour of it," said Filip De Man, an EU lawmaker for Vlaams Belang.

The politician, seeking another term in the European Parliament, said Belgium as a federal state was not working.

"In the next five years, there must be talks between the Flemish and Walloon (French-speaking) governments to see how we are going to divide the country in two in a diplomatic and reasonable manner," he told AFP.

De Man said he wanted the regions to have more control over key issues, including social security.

Presenting itself as the "party for Flemish people", anti-elite and anti-globalisation, one of Vlaams Belang's main arguments is that welfare should be under each region's control.

At the rally, supporters held placards calling for "more purchasing power" and "less immigration", two inseparable issues for the party.