Voting in Belgium

EU citizens may vote in several of the Belgian elections. This page tells you how...

The EU treaty (known as the "Maastricht Treaty") gives every citizen in the European Union the right to vote and stand as a candidate in local, municipal and European Parliament elections in the EU country where they are currently resident, under the same conditions as nationals of that country.

In 2004 the Belgian Parliament granted non-EU citizens the right to vote in national and local elections (but not in European elections). But there were conditions attached. To qualify they must have been resident in Belgium for at least five years and sign an oath of allegiance to the Belgian constitution and sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Voting Process and Elections

In Belgium, there are no "national" parties operating on both sides of the linguistic border. As a result, elections are a contest among Flemish parties in Dutch-speaking Flanders and Francophone parties in Wallonia. Only in officially bilingual Brussels can voters choose from either Flemish or Francophone parties.

Several months before an election, the parties form a list of candidates for each district. Parties are allowed to place as many candidates on their "list" as there are seats available. The formation of the list is an internal process that varies with each party. The number of seats each party receives and where on a list a candidate is placed, or how many individual votes a candidate receives, determines whether a candidate is elected. Since no single party holds an absolute majority in Parliament, after each election the strongest party or "party family" will create a coalition with other parties to form the government.

  • Elections for the Federal Parliament take place every four years approximately. Community and regional parliaments are elected every five years coinciding with elections for the European Parliament (where Belgium has 25 seats)
  • Municipal and provincial council elections take place every six years. Voters vote for the parliaments and councils in their region only. For example residents in Flanders vote for candidates in the Flemish parliament, but not those in the Brussels-Capital region. Those who are elected are elected to seats in parliament or on a council. They then get to vote on who should be chosen as mayor, governor, prime minister etc.

The Belgium Federal Government website has information on how the various councils and chambers work.

How to Vote

Belgium imposes mandatory voting on its own citizens, who are automatically registered in the electoral polls – more than 90 percent of the population takes part. Resident foreigners will have to register themselves and complete a formulaire d'inscription/formulier ingediend at their Town Hall.

Non-Belgians can register to vote during the process of initial registration with the municipal authority at the local Town Hall (Maison communale/Stadhuis). No one will be allowed to vote unless they are officially resident. There is a cut off date for registration prior to any election. Non-EU citizens wishing to vote in local elections must go through a similar process of registration and prove that they have been resident in the country for at least five years.

Anyone eligible to vote receives their voting card (convocation/oproepingswijze) from their municipality by post approximately two weeks before the elections. It gives the voter instructions on when and where to vote, confirms their identity and gives instructions on how to proceed once at the polling station.

They must then take this and proof of their identity to the polling station. The card will be marked to indicate that a vote has been cast.

Belgian voters are given five options for voting:

  • Vote for the party "list", which means they support a party rather than an individual and are happy to follow party decisions
  • Vote for one or more individual candidate regardless of their rank on the "list"
  • Vote for one or more "alternate" or substitute
  • Vote for one or more alternate and one or more candidate
  • Vote invalid or blank so no one has the benefit of their vote

Note: Although it is possible to vote for more than one candidate, they must be from the same party or the vote becomes invalid.

Casting the vote in person

Traditionally elections in Belgium take place on a Sunday and voting begins at 08:00 and continues until 13:00. However, the polling stations are sometimes open longer. Voters must present themselves with their voting card and their residency permit as identification.

On arrival at the polling station their details are checked and they must temporarily surrender their residency permit and voting card. They are given a voting slip to complete and go into a booth to do so with the red pencil provided. On exiting the booth they must show a representative that the ballot paper has been properly completed before depositing it in the ballot box.

The voting card is then returned to them marked to say that a vote has been cast and their residency permit is also returned.

Electronic voting is used in some parts of the country, voters receive a magnetic card instead of a voting slip. In a private booth the voter then inserts the card into a reader and follows the instructions on the screen to cast their vote. This is done with an optical pen and it has to be confirmed. Once voting is complete the magnetic card is once more exchanged for the residency permit and the voting card marked to confirm that a vote has been placed.

Note: There is provision for the handicapped to be assisted at polling stations.

Casting the vote by proxy

Voting by proxy is possible in certain circumstances. Anyone who wishes to vote by proxy for reasons of illness or infirmity must prove the need for this with a medical certificate.

Other accepted reasons for requiring a proxy vote include those prevented from voting due to business reasons (either in Belgium or overseas), residents on holiday outside Belgium, students involved in examinations, those with religious convictions who cannot vote on the day of the election, and certain of those in prison.

  • Full details on the Federal Government portal: Click here (in French & Dutch)

No proxy votes are allowed in any of the above cases without the required written proof or authorisation from an accredited body.

Political Parties

The following are the main parties in Belgium currently.

  • CDH: Centre Democrate Humaniste (in French)
  • Ecolo: Green Party (in French)
  • MR: Mouvement Réformateur (in French)
  • PS: Parti Socialiste (in French)
  • CD & V: Christen Democratisch en Vlaams (in Dutch)
  • Groen: Green Party (in Dutch)
  • N-VA: Nieuwe Vlaamse Alliantie
  • Sp.a: Sociaal Progessief Alternatief (in Dutch)
  • Open VLD: (in Dutch)

European Parliamentary Elections

All EU citizens regardless of where in the EU they reside may vote in the European Parliamentary Elections. A citizen may only vote once per election and only from the place in which they are registered to vote.

By voting in Belgium, the EU citizen votes for their choice of Belgian representative to the the European Parliament. And after voting in Belgium the EU national loses their right to vote in another State of the Union (anyone doing so may be fined and imprisoned).

Further Information