The European Elections: Party tricks fail to woo Belgian voters: Fiesta Time: Beer and tombola may not save coalition, Sarah Lambert reports from Geel

Belgians are happy for an excuse to party. Yesterday, on the only sunny day of the year, about 800 party-lovers in this small town squeezed into a tent, bent on enjoying the traditional rites of summer, sing-along music, beer and the chance to win on the tombola. But it was not fun for fun's sake. Unusually in a country with little appetite for politics, this was a party for Europe.

The European elections come at a crucial time. As in Britain the vote is as much a plebiscite on a deeply unpopular centre-left coalition government as it is about the construction of Europe.

In the 1960s the Flemish Christian Democrats (CVP), who provide the current Prime Minister and would-be European Commission president, Jean-Luc Dehaene, won 50 per cent of the vote in Flanders. Now, opinion polls estimate they will poll between 25 and 27 per cent of the electorate.

The party has responded with an invitation to party, harnessing the newly passed law which limits election expenses to 50m Belgian francs ( pounds 961,000) per political group, to finance events across the country. The formula is clever: a big top, lashings of beer, a team of nationally known, middle-of-the- road singers, flashing lights, and an enthusiastic compere. An agreeably drunken evening is laced with political speeches.

Most participants are there for the beer. On matters European they are sceptical. 'If it wasn't compulsory, I wouldn't vote, politicians do nothing,' one man said.

Euro-gloom hangs less heavily over Belgium than many countries. Most people think that for a small country there is safety in numbers. But although there is a sense that Europe is 'a good thing', the only true believers are those whose livelihood is directly affected by European politics.

Leo Tindemans, a former prime minister, heads the CVP list. In the Geel big top he gave an impassioned speech about the need for a common European security policy as a bulwark against war.

'When I go out on the stump the main concerns are unemployment and war in Yugoslavia, I try to turn this into a positive message - evidence for why Europe is important', he said.

His message was the need to return to the 'Christian values' of the CVP, an echo of the party's desperate efforts to forge a broader coalition in the centre.

The other half of the coalition, the Socialist Party, the dominant force in Wallonia, is in even deeper trouble.

Its credibility is at an all-time low after a spate of corruption scandals, and for its support for the government's budget-trimming measures. This has alienated the powerful unions.

Against this backdrop, the Flemish liberals (VLD) look well placed. They characterise the election as a chance to pass judgement on the government. The beneficiaries of the confusion are likely to be Greens on the left and fascists on the right. In Antwerp, the Vlaams Blok is likely to strengthen its hold and may return an MEP.

Their campaign poster features a broom - a symbol last used by the fascists in 1936 - and invites voters to sweep out traditional parties and immigrants.

Mr Tindemans is optimistic the electorate will vote for what they know, in which case the CVP list, which has two prime ministers, two cabinet ministers and the leader of Flanders, should do well. The polls suggest otherwise. Some have the coalition winning only 47 per cent. That result would loosen still further, if not destroy, its grip on power.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
The RBS Six Nations trophy at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Ireland vs England
rugby
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?