Authoritarian Populism Index.

The Authoritarian Populism Index is developed by Timbro.

Timbro is the leading free market think tank in the Nordic countries. Our mission is to promote and disseminate ideas supporting the principles of free markets, free enterprise, individual liberty and a free society. Timbro was founded in 1978 by Sture Eskilsson and the Swedish Employers’ Association, a precursor to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.  Since 2003, Timbro is financed by the Swedish Free Enterprise Foundation.


International outreach and translation supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Atlas Network.


Populism Rank: 17


Voter support for radical left in last elections (2019): +4,9%.
Voter support for radical right in last elections: +7,5%.
Populist or authoritarian parties in government (March 2024): none
Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 4/21.

01 Speakers

Belgian party politics differ in two respects. Firstly, there are almost no Belgian-wide parties anymore; instead, most parties operate solely in Flanders or Wallonia. Secondly, established parties in Belgium have maintained a cordon sanitaire against the far-right Vlaams Belang over time.

The Belgian Communist Party (KPB) was established in 1921 and remained loyal to the Soviet Union for most of its existence. The KPB reached the height of its popularity directly after World War II, finishing third in the 1946 elections with 12 percent of the vote. In 1946-47 it was part of a coalition government. Its support quickly vanished, however, and BKP never returned to government.


The Workers Party of Belgium (PVDA/PTB) traces its origins back to the student protest movements of the late 1960s and officially became a party in 1979. Emerging in opposition to the KPB, which it viewed as revisionist, the PTB was heavily influenced by Maoism. For decades, the PVDA/PTB struggled to gain electoral traction. However, it experienced a surge in support during the 2000s, particularly after distancing itself from its earlier separatist leanings. The party has continued to grow in opinion polls and rose to become the second-largest party in the beginning of 2024.

It is currently the only Belgian party in parliament, i.e. the only party without regional branches, even though it still remains stronger among the electorate in Vallonia, the industrial heart of Belgium. The party underwent significant transformation in the 2000s, moving away from references to Lenin, Mao, and revolutionary rhetoric, a shift influenced by the Socialist Party (SP) in the Netherlands. Economically, the PTB espouses radical left-wing policies, while adopting more moderate stances on social issues. Notably, the party abstained from the parliamentary vote condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Ludo Martens, founder of PVDA/PTB.

The People’s Union (VU), a Flemish nationalist party, was formed in 1954 to promote the Flemish language. The VU later broadened its scope and became a big tent organisation, successfully attracting voters from both the left, the centre and the right. The VU contributed to the growing attention given to the Flemish question in the 1970s, at a time when the established parties split into Vallonian and Flanderian branches. Eventually the VU also split, when a more radical faction, who did not accept the compromise on the federal solution, left. In the 1978 election, an alliance of two small radically nationalist parties was formed, which in 1979 was turned into a new political party: Vlaams Blok (VB).


The Vlaams Blok did not make much noise in its early years, being active mostly in the city of Antwerp, and with total focus on the issue of independence for Flanders. In the mid 1980s, the party’s attention gradually shifted towards anti-immigration messages. In 1987 a youth organization was formed by among others future party leader Filip Dewinter. The big break came in the EP elections in 1989, followed by a strong result in the Belgian elections in 1991, which became known as “Black Sunday” in Belgium. VB then continued to grow, increasing their share of the votes in every election from 1981 to 2007.


VB has a long history of extremism and occasionally even anti-semitism. Its first party leader, Karel Dillen, elected to the post for life in 1981 (he eventually resigned in 1996, continuing as an MEP until 2004) translated a Holocaust denial book in the 1950s. In the early 2000s, vice-president Roeland Raes sparked a media scandal by questioning the scale of the Holocaust and the authenticity of Anne Frank’s Diary. In 1992, VB introduced a controversial “70-points plan” inspired by a similar plan in France by Jean-Marie Le Pen, advocating for the mass expulsion of immigrants from Belgium as a solution to the immigration problem.


The extremism of VB motivated the other parties in parliament to systematically exclude them from power, hence the informal agreement of a “Cordon Sanitaire” in 1989. VB was disbanded in 2004 due to a court ruling that found the party sanctioning illegal discrimination. It reformed as Vlaams Belang the same year, with party leader Frank Vanhecke stating, “We change our name, but not our program.” However, the party’s popularity began to decline in the following years, reaching its lowest point in the 2014 election. This decline was widely seen as a triumph for the cordon sanitaire strategy. Nevertheless, VB soon experienced a resurgence, achieving 12 percent of the vote in 2019, matching their best election result from 2007. In late 2022, Vlaams Belang surged ahead in national polls and has maintained its position as the most popular party as of March 2024.

The VB used to be clearly right-wing on economic issues but has moved towards the centre during the last decade. It remains very critical of the EU, and has always been quite conservative on social issues. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 forced the VB to shift its position on Putin’s regime, with senior member Tom van Grieken claiming that he had been seriously mistaken about Putin and Dewinter, who earlier had praised Putin, now called him a dictator.

Filip Dewinter.

The Cordon Sanitaire also excluded the Vallonian counterpart to the VB: The National Front (FN). The FN was a Belgian nationalist party strongly opposed to both immigration and to separatism in Flanders. It shared name and ideology with the more famous French party but never had close cooperation with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s party. In 2006, party president Daniel Féret was sentenced to 250 hours of community service for racist messages in the election campaign. FN later changed its name to National Democracy. It was represented in parliament between 1991-2010, but never had any influence. In 1997, they merged with Agir, a small Liege-based nationalist party.


The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) was formed in 2001, becoming the de facto successor of the now defunct VU. N-VA is a Flemish nationalist party, advocating a more civic form of nationalism than the VB. Originally a big tent-party, N-VA is now a leading centre-right party in Belgium, classified by some scholars as populist and far right. In 2007, a N-VA senator, Jean-Marie Dedecker, left the party and formed the List Dedecker (LDD, currently Libertarian, Direct, Democratic) which won representation in the 2007 and 2010 elections, as well as one seat in the European Parliament in 2009. The LDD is a populist party, right wing both on economic and social issues. LDD became the first party to stay out of the cordon sanitaire against VB.

EP elections

Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 4/21


VB entered the EP in 1989 with one seat, and joined the far right group of Jean-Marie Le Pen. In 1994, they were joined in the parliament by FN, although both parties lacked a group. VB MEP:s then spent many years as non-inscrit, until becoming founding members of the Identity and Democracy group. They got 3 MEP:s in the 2019 election. Belgium is also represented in the ECR group, through N-VA. In 2019, PTB-PVA gained one seat, which became Belgium’s first seat ever in the GUE-NGL group.

PVDA/PTB summary

Economics: LEFT
Social issues: MODERATE
Democratic credibility: LOW

VB summary

Social issues: CONSERVATIVE
Democratic credibility: LOW