"If they are planning to switch coalitions in 2014, they should say so,” Flemish green MEP Bart Staes said. “We are staying where we are,” retorted the N-VA (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie) MEP Mark Demesmaeker.
Marking an early start to the campaign for the May 2014 European elections, Staes has attacked the Flemish nationalists' voting behaviour in the European Parliament.
“[The N-VA] votes different from The Greens/EFA group on far more issues than any other EFA party,” Staes said, accusing the N-VA of deviating from the group's agreed political line.
“An EP group does not have to all vote the same, but we do have a political agreement on a number of issues,” Staes said.
His remarks followed a debate on Belgian public television on 15 September, in which Demesmaeker called the Greens/EFA group a “technical collaboration”.
Triple vote for Belgium in May 2014
Belgian voters face a triple election in 2014, with a federal and regional vote as well as a European election all happening on Sunday 25 May.
The Flemish nationalist N-VA has only one MEP in the current European Parliament, but opinion polls indicate it should do better in 2014. Last year, it won the local elections and the party is currently the largest in the Belgian parliament following the 2010 federal election after openly campaigning for Flanders to leave Belgium, plunging the country into an unprecedented political crisis.
In Parliament, the European Free Alliance (EFA) group has formed an alliance with the greens since 1999. The EFA has seven MEPs – from Scotland, Wales, Flanders, Catalonia, Corsica and Latvia – who stand for regionalist causes and, like the N-VA, often promote a separatist agenda in their home country.
Demesmaeker replaced another MEP, Frieda Brepoels, as the representative of the N-VA in February 2013. And since then, he has shown more independence in his voting behaviour.
According to data published by VoteWatch.eu, Demesmaeker has voted along the Greens/EFA group’s political line in 61% of the roll-call votes – a drop of 16 percentage points compared to his predecessor.
“Even within the EFA coalition, the N-VA’s stances have been diverging more and more in the last eight months,” Staes told EurActiv.
Demesmaeker replied: “I vote according to the N-VA’s party line and to what the people in my constituency elected me to do. It is not unusual to go against a group’s recommended vote,” he stressed, discarding Staes’s comments as campaign rhetoric.
“Within the European Free Alliance (EFA) we firmly agree on the core business – the right for self-determination – but we differ on some issues, for instance on accents in socio-economic policy.”
The earlier outburst on national television reveals a protracted disagreement between the Green Party and the Flemish nationalists. The spat is likely to reemerge as the European election campaign gains momentum.
Putting pressure on the N-VA MEP, Staes told EurActiv: “Mark Demesmaeker has difficulties explaining why they are in the same group as the greens. But we have a political pact – one to which they agreed.”
If opinion polls are correct and the N-VA makes a strong showing at next year's European election, the Flemish nationalists might be tempted to split from the Greens.
In the past, there has been talk about a rapprochement between N-VA and the British Conservatives, the party which created the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) group in the European Parliament. In October 2012, the Flemish daily De Standaard reported on a meeting between British prime minister David Cameron and N-VA’s top politician Bart De Wever, who feels ideologically connected to the UK’s ruling party.
The Flemish nationalists’ ties to Cameron are sensitive on the European level because of the the N-VA's association with the separatist Scottish Nationalist Party and Welsh Plaid Cymru party in the EFA group.
Demesmaeker stressed that the N-VA was “loyal” to the EFA party. “We are a founding member. I can’t imagine a split-up. We’re staying where we are,” he said, however adding that a final decision would be made by the national party congress after the May elections.