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Tom Van Grieken

Tom Van Grieken

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If Tom Van Grieken’s Vlaams Belang party wins the June 2024 election, Belgium as we know it may cease to exist. Van Grieken, who became party leader as a fresh-faced 28-year-old, wants to turn Flanders into a breakaway state, and he plans to extract the Flemish-speaking north from what he calls “a forced marriage,” whether Wallonia likes it or not.

Do most Belgians really want to break their country in two? Unlikely. But Vlaams Belang isn’t just a one-trick pony. Amid a major influx of asylum seekers to Belgium, migration is consistently seen in polling as the No. 1 concern for voters in Flanders. Van Grieken, the son of a police officer and a tobacconist, has capitalized on that to position his far-right, populist party as immigration hard-liners. If that convinces enough Belgians to give him their vote, the country that was born out of chaos may come apart again by accident.

The key to Van Grieken’s plan is overcoming objections within the Flemish nationalist party N-VA to forming a government with Vlaams Belang — breaking a decades-old promise of the Belgian political establishment not to govern with the far right. Van Grieken, once considered a hard-liner, has attempted to soften his image in an effort to charm the N-VA. Exhibit A: Van Grieken had an official audience with the king of Belgium in 2019 — becoming the first far-right leader to do so in the modern political era. It also doesn’t hurt that the far-right Vlaams Belang is now the biggest political force in the country.

Even if Van Grieken’s strategy fails, the Donald Trump-loving right-winger is likely to succeed in creating further political instability in Belgium — only helping his secessionist cause.

Check out the full POLITICO 28: Class of 2024, and read the Letter from the Editors for an explanation of the thinking behind the ranking.

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