Even for natives it is difficult to understand Belgian politics. There is a federal Belgium government, a Flemish, Wallonian, Brussels and German government. One very strange thing is that it is impossible for Flemish people to vote for French speaking candidates and visa versa. This is for sure the root cause of a lot of troubles and misunderstandings in this country.
Three big parties traditionally dominate politics in Belgium: the Christian democrat, socialists and liberal party. Other smaller parties in Flanders are the green party and nationalistic parties. For the American reader, in Europe Socialists are left parties but they do not have anything to do with communists or your idea of socialists. In your country socialist is a term of abuse. In Europe, these are normal parties that concentrate more on working people rather than on economics.
Traditionally there is also a strong right wing party. For the moment there are three right wing parties and the strength of them changes every election. Traditional parties do not want to go in a Belgium government with the right wing parties.
Most current problems started in the twenties when Wallonia refused to make Belgium completely bilingual. In those days, French was the dominating language in all-official bodies. Government, higher education; everything was in French.
The Flemish movement fought this and little by little Flanders got the right to use its native language again. In the sixties, again some very bad decisions were taken by the Belgium government and now, fifty years later, the two communities are completely alienated from each other. The famous bilingual Belgium exists less and less. Most Flemish youngsters do not speak proper French anymore and the French speaking part of Belgium was never interested in developing Dutch skills.
The lingua franca becomes thus English. Isn’t that weird?
The federal parliament exists out of the chamber of representatives and the senate. The real power is in the chamber. There are several parties that want to shut down the senate because of limited impact and increasing costs. A federal Belgium government is created and a prime minister is selected out of the chamber. He will make a coalition with other parties in order to have more then 50 percent of the votes. The system is completely different then the UK or the US. Every party will have representatives in the chambers if this party has more then 5 percent of the votes in an area and that makes it very difficult to create governments.
The Flemish parliament is elected during Flemish elections while the federal parliament is elected by federal elections. Both sometimes fall together but not necessarily. This causes a lot of problems of candidates changing between the federal and Flemish (or Wallonian or Brussels) parliament.
A Flemish government is created out of the parliament and a prime minister is appointed. Usually it is the leader of the strongest party but this is not necessary.
More and more responsibilities have been transferred from the federal level to the Flemish level.
Flanders is responsible for economy, education, health, culture and sports, public transport, Energy, urbanization, public works (roads).
The federal Belgium government is traditionally responsible for social security, military, foreign affairs, pensions and economy! Most Flemish parties want to bring more responsibilities to the Flemish level but the Wallonian part does not agree with this.
B-H-V: difficult to understand. Brussels- Halle –Vilvoorde. Thirty-five communes around Brussels are located in Flanders. There is a `big` French speaking minority who is allowed to vote on Wallonian politicians. About seven communes have a French majority. Voting for French speaking candidates is against the constitution and also against the logic of Belgium. For example: Flemish people cannot vote for Flemish candidates when they live in Wallonia. That’s all there is to know! It is ridiculous.
Local responsibilities: The French speaking part in Belgium wants a strong federal state while most Flemish parties want strong communities and a weak (some say no) federal state.
Transfers: Since the sixties, when the steal and carbon industry in Wallonnia declined, Flanders has been sponsoring the now poorer southern part of the country. These transfers are not transparent and Flanders want to stop them. Wallonia is of course afraid to loose this income.
Position of the king
A fourth problem is the position of the king. I just add it here but I do not consider it as a breaking point. There is a big minority that wants either to get rid of the royal family or limit his power to be only protocolar. Personally, I think that the idea of a king is old fashioned. I don`t think we need it and I also do not think we need a president. The country is small enough to be ruled by a prime minister. In the US, NYC has more inhabitants than our whole country!