Why do certain MPs still commit to politics at the federal level while others swear allegiance only to the region? Are the trajectories of elected representatives in a straight line or are they uneven? What motivates them? What weight do political parties hold? Based on an analysis of nearly 2,200 political careers, Jérémy Dodeigne established the profiles of regional and federal MPs in Wallonia, Catalonia and Scotland. In the south of Belgium, the average homo politicus is often like a shooting star.
The random example of Elio Di Rupo springs to mind! He started out as a local councilor when he began his career in 1982, he became a municipal councilor, Federal MP, member of the European parliament, Federal Minister, Deputy in Wallonia, Federal MP, Prime Minister and finally, Federal MP.
Another entirely random example is that of Didier Reynders! Local councilor in 1988, then deputy at the Chamber and Federal Minister up to the present day. What differences exist between the political trajectories of one who has walked practically all the halls of power and one who remains faithful to one tier of government? Where do the careers of our elected representatives lead? Is there a royal path to power, an ultimate stage in a political career that all elected representatives strive to reach?
In other countries, the typical career path is laid out: commune-federal-region then Europe to finish “in style”. In Belgium, this used to be the case. But now, other routes toward elected offices have appeared as a direct consequence of federalization. The low country is not the only one where there appears to be several routes towards political glory. The same applies to all countries where regionalization is in operation. When federal entities acquire more and more autonomy and powers, does a political career at a national level remain the ultimate achievement? Where has it become better to take up political office in a region?
The forest can no longer be seen for the trees
Jérémy Dodeigne, a research fellow at the FNRS at the catholic University of Louvain and the University of Liege, sought to answer the above questions by not merely focussing on the better known cases like the two examples mentioned above. Rather, he focussed his attention on all elected representatives, the unseen part of the iceberg below water. “Studies on this subject generally only take account of people who move from one tier of government to another. But the forest cannot be seen for the trees as these studies omit some 80% to 90% of all deputies! The innovative aspect of my work lies in the scope of its inclusiveness”.
The researcher did not confine his study to Wallonia, he also examined the political situation in Catalonia and Scotland where regional autonomy and powers have continued to increase since the 1960s. The total number of electoral careers examined was 2,200 (“I don’t count my working hours”!), and he conducted 83 interviews (these were carried out in the languages of the elected representatives concerned during trips abroad). His thesis, which he defended on the thirtieth of April last, presented two starting hypotheses. Option 1: despite the empowerment of the regions, the national arena remains the most attractive choice. Option 2: the regions have become the new “places to be”.