A Cordon Sanitaire Around Austria
In the run-up to the European elections on 13 June 1999, I was confronted with an underhanded and devious move regarding how the list of candidates for the European Parliament was to be drawn up by my home party. The elections coincided with federal and regional elections. In the Belgian electoral system, one's position on the list is a delicate matter, as it can be vital to whether one is elected or not. Traditionally, the list comprises a mixture of experienced and newer candidates, men and women, young and old and so on. This is especially the case with the list of candidates for the European elections, as the French-speaking and the Dutch-speaking regions of Belgium each have their own electoral districts. The list of my party, the Flemish Christian Democrats, was offcially approved by the party executive. But it had already been de facto decided upon beforehand by an inner cabal of the party. A candidate committee, something that any serious party would have formed, was nowhere to be found. What mattered instead was who was the object of rumour or backstabbing.
In early 1999 rumours were fying constantly in all directions. All of a sudden, a proposal was put forward within the party that there should be more women on the list and consequently, that the Minister for Employment, Miet Smet, would be an excellent choice to head the list of European candidates. Her candidacy was supported by the leaders of the Flemish Christian Democrats. For thirty years, Miet has been my favourite political companion. I had a very strong suspicion that there was something else afoot. And it was not surprising that people lacked the courage to let me know. In mid-February a decision was made in her favour.