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Monday, June 10, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

On the streets of Brussels, frustration over government reigns after European elections

In Brussels on the morning after the European Elections, the mood on the street was far from joyful. People cited the rise of the far right and general lack of change as sources of anger.

BRUSSELS (CN) — On the morning after the European elections, people in Brussels seem nothing short of exasperated.

Election night turned into a bona fide political theater in Brussels and across the continent. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced his resignation after his party secured just 5.9% of the vote. French President Emmanuel Macron dissolved parliament and announced a snap election when the far right won with 31.5%, more than doubling the tally of Macron’s party. In addition to France, the far right had big wins in Germany and Austria.

This morning in Brussels, sheets of rain came pouring down over the city, swayed by gusts of wind. The sky was dark and the mood grim.

Rachel B. works in an embroidery shop near the Grand-Place, the city’s most famous square dotted with ornate 17th century buildings, some accented in gold. As tourists with umbrellas and ponchos braved the streets outside, she leaned against the store’s desk, eating a sandwich. Her eyes grew wide at the mention of the elections. Rachel B. had one word to describe how she felt today: bad.

“I think nothing,” she told Courthouse News. “I don’t believe in it.”

When Rachel B. went to the voting booths — voting is mandatory in Belgium for citizens over 16 — she didn’t know who to choose, and she was frustrated that there was no one she wanted on the ballot.

“All of the extremes are bad, right and left, and it’s difficult to be in the middle because we naturally lean to one side or another, and the middle doesn’t exist,” she said. “It was a joke yesterday.”

Rachel B. believes that politicians are “stealers and liars,” she explained, putting down her sandwich. She did not break eye contact while expressing immense frustration, a total lack of trust in the government. Yesterday, she switched the TV on to watch the results, and turned it off two minutes later. Then, she saw Macron’s announcement through TikTok, and couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

“I thought it was a joke, what is that country going to become?” she said. “It’s scary.”

Brussels under cloudy skies on June 10, 2024. (Lily Radziemski/Courthouse News)

Despite being Belgian, she said that she follows French politics more closely than her own. She isn’t the only one. Alexandra Degryse works in a chocolate shop in the center of the city. Despite the resignation of De Croo, Degryse jumped to talk about the results in France.

“I saw in France that it went badly and that the extreme right is rising,” she told Courthouse News. “It’s scary, and it’s scary because it’s starting to rise a bit everywhere.”

In her view, things are looking bad on multiple fronts, she explained, looking over the chocolate counter.

“Everything is bad — there are wars everywhere, there’s the fact that prices are rising and life is becoming difficult even for people that work and have a salary, so I think it’s everything,” Degryse said.

She described how people are likely unhappy with the European government and want to see change. This echoed a common sentiment that numerous people voiced throughout the day — no matter who comes into power and what happens in the government, things remain the same.

“It’s always the same, it won’t change,” Degryse said. “I think the Belgian people are resigned.”

Aviak Garip, a tailor in central Brussels, sat at his desk with a measuring tape around his neck, talking on speaker phone. He says that he generally votes with the right; he is not for immigration, and thinks that too many immigrants are coming into the country and taking resources away from working people.

“There are only foreigners,” he told Courthouse News. “I’m not for immigration; why do I have to pay for them?”

But despite the far-right gains, he too was visibly upset about the government in general. He’s less concerned with right or left than having someone at the helm who runs the country well.

“I always said, whoever governs the country like they should, I’m for them,” Garip said. “I don’t care who it is.”

Down one of the winding streets in the old town of Brussels, one man leaned outside of the door of an antique shop, smoking a cigarette. He didn’t vote.

“You could dress a dog in a hat and it would be the same thing,” he said. “It’s useless.”

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Categories / Elections, International

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