chapter  11
From economic integration to active political participation of immigrants: the Belgium experience from Paris to the Maastricht Treaty (1950–1993)
Pages 13

Until recently only Belgian citizens were allowed to participate in local elections. As demonstrated by an in-depth analysis and in a rather long perspective of this issue, Belgian politicians and political parties have been remarkably reluctant in allowing foreign residents more active political participation. This was, as has been extensively explained in some relevant works, mainly due to polarization and electoral struggles over the anti-immigrant vote in the 1980s and early 1990s. In addition, the Flemish-Francophone cleavage was particularly disruptive in this regard in the second half of the 1990s.1 This cleavage lead to two divergent types of attitudes and in reaction to the inflow and settlement of immigrants. While the Flemish speaking community has pursued a multiculturalist policy, the French speaking community seems to have supported a less specific approach, more in line with “French republican assimilationism”.2 In comparison to other European immigration countries, both the Flemish and French speaking communities began to devise immigrant policies quite belatedly (Bousetta et al., 2005, p. 5). It was early 1999 before Belgium finally enfranchised EU-citizens in compliance with the Maastricht Treaty and the derived European directive. Foreign residents from EU-countries were thus able to participate in the most recent local elections, which took place in October 2000. Some of the foreign residents were for the first time able to vote and stand as a candidate in Belgian municipal elections. If non-Belgian EU-citizens were able to register as voters and participate in the local elections, that wasn’t case for non-EU residents, who were not allowed to vote or stand as a candidate. This chapter attempts to put into perspective this long course and its pathways toward the full integration and participation of foreign people in the Belgium political sphere and to determine the main cornerstones of this historical dynamic in terms of the active civic participation of immigrants in Belgium. The hypothesis assumed is that this historical process has been clearly given impetus because of the European unification process for economic reasons and the necessary labour mobility. Actually, socio-economic actors have anticipated an evolution giving more rights to the immigrants toward a greater integration. The

political sphere was and remains a contentious one, despite the promotion of citizenship at the European level from the Maastricht Treaty. The political Europe makes its absence felt. In the first part of the chapter, we shall trace a general overview of the historical context of the immigration dynamic in Belgium before bringing to light the impact of the European integration process. This thematic is well embedded with a more global approach (including the European integration process) and addressed in the broadest terms considering the complexity of the issue. The main points and outcomes of the history of the integration of immigrants in Belgium is worthy of discussion. It will be our first point of analysis. Then, we more particularly address the issue of the political participation of foreign people by approaching both the theoretical framework offered by sociology and political science and by examining the way Belgium has been, not without difficulty, integrating the citizenship promotion encouraged by the Maastricht treaty and its following step by putting the citizenship at the centre of the debate.