Flemish separatists make gains in Belgium local elections

Local elections in Belgium have seen a considerable increase in the vote of the separatist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) in Dutch-speaking Flanders. It has taken 20 of the 35 districts to become the largest party in the north.

The party is in favour of greater financial autonomy for Flanders, the most prosperous part of Belgium, and although the recent elections have a mainly local significance the increase in power of the N-VA will also have a knock-on effect on national politics.

The N-VA leader Bart De Wever has become the mayor of Antwerp, the country’s second largest city and one of the major ports in northern Europe. It is only the second time since the end of world war two that Antwerp, the most prosperous city in Belgium, has not had a Socialist mayor.

De Wever has already called on the French-speaking prime minister Elio Di Rupo to make concessions to Flanders and Flemish speakers and intends to continue his separatist policies into the 2014 national elections.

The N-VA has taken many of its votes from the Flemish Interest (Viaams Belang) party to its right, which is also separatist but which is fiercely anti-immigrant and anti-European.

Most of the mayors in the French-speaking Brussels region have managed to hang on to office. The new developments in Brussels are the rise of the Green party and the decline of the far right Viaams Belang.