Belgium. The new millennium started well for Belgium.
Belgian economy, which for many years has lagged behind in
the European Union, grew by almost 4% in 2000. Unemployment
fell to 8.6%, which is below the EU average. During the
year, the Rainbow Coalition, made up of liberals,
environmentalists and socialists, presented bold programs on
social reforms, tax cuts and administrative changes to keep
the strong economic growth alive.
But Belgium would not be Belgium if there had not been
any dark events every year. The dark event in 2000 was the
municipal election on October 8, where the racist right-wing
party Vlaams Blok had great success in several cities in
Flanders. In Antwerp, Vlaams Blok received no less than 33%
and in Ghent 20% of the votes.
The result in the municipal elections is in bad shape
with the government's hard line earlier in the year against
Austria. Belgium was at the forefront of the EU boycotting
Austria, since the xenophobic Freedom Party was part of the
coalition government. Unlike in Austria, the democratic
parties in Belgium have so far refused to compromise with
the Vlaam Blok. The racist party is therefore not
represented in either the government or any municipality.
However, the election reflects that racism is widespread
in Belgium. According to the EU's annual Eurobarometer
opinion poll, published in the fall, 27% of Belgians believe
the presence of another breed is "disruptive". It is the
highest figure in the EU. However, the government hopes that
the reforms presented during the year will defeat the racist
sentiments in the country.