According to a2zdirectory, Belgium experienced a significant political change with the formation, in July 1999, of a government without the participation of the Christian-socialists. These, represented by the Flemish Christelijke Volkspartij(CVP, Christian People’s Party) and the Walloon Parti social chrétien (PSC), had in fact been at the helm of the country almost continuously since 1947., either alone or in coalition. Their exclusion was the result of a process that began during the last decade of the century, when the economic difficulties, the slowness of the process of transformation in the federal sense of the country, the issues related to the presence in the population of a large number of immigrants, the episodes of corruption in which important members of the political class had been involved, the resurgence of interethnic tensions and, finally, the suspicions on the involvement of institutional apparatuses in the coverage of a network of pedophiles and murders (scandal that exploded in 1996) had seriously eroded the consent enjoyed by the parties traditionally at the center of the Belgian political scene: the Christian-social parties, in fact, and then the two socialist parties, the Flemish Socialistische Partij (SP, Socialist Party) and the Walloon Socialist Parti (PS). Parallel to their weakening (between the elections of 1987 and those of 1999 their presence in the Chamber had increased from 86 % to 71 % of the seats) there was the progressive affirmation of two radical alternative forces: the first, represented by the environmentalists of AGALEV (acronym of the slogan Anders gaan leven, Living differently) and ÉCOLO (Écologistes confédérées pour l’organisation des luttes originales); the second, which gathered around the far right of the Front National (FN, Walloon) and above all of the separatist and xenophobe Vlaams Blok (VB, Flemish Bloc).
In June 1999, while the center-left government led by J.-L. Dehaene was subjected to severe attacks for the delays and ambiguities with which it had faced the case of a national industry producing and distributing dioxin-contaminated pet foods (a carcinogenic product), political elections were held, which would severely punish socialists and socialists, who dropped respectively from 41 to 32 seats and from 41 to 33. The liberal area, composed of the Flemish Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten (VLD, Liberal Democrats and Flemings) and the Walloon list composed of Parti réformateur libéral (PRL), Front démocratique des francophones (FDF) and Mouvement des citoyens pour le changement (MCC), recorded a slight increase overall from 39 to 41 seats; the most significant growth was that obtained by the environmentalists of AGALEV and ÉCOLO (from 11 to 20 seats), while the extreme right increased from 13 to 16 seats. G. Verhofstadt, leader of the VLD, charged with forming a new executive, at the end of difficult negotiations in July of the same year gave life to a coalition government between six parties: the two liberals, the two socialists and the two ecologists.
But the issue of dioxin-contaminated products did not seem to settle down, between the protests of farmers demanding government aid and the new line of rigor adopted by the government, until a special decree was passed in August that laid down precise rules in relation to the export of foodstuffs. During the course of the legislature, the government achieved some of the objectives indicated in the electoral program: the process of federalization of the country was further strengthened; in the field of civil rights, the use of soft drugs was liberalized (January 2001), the use of euthanasia was legalized (September 2002) and, in January 2003, homosexual couples were granted the same rights as heterosexual ones, except that of adoption. The presence of the ecologists in the government also led, in December 2002, to the approval of a law that established the closure (foreseen within 25 years) of nuclear plants.
But the electoral weight of the far right continued to grow, reflecting an increasingly widespread intolerance towards immigrants: in the administrative elections of October 2000, in the wake of an electoral campaign inspired by the demand for an immediate repatriation of immigrants and the demand of independence for Flanders, the VB had achieved great success not only in Antwerp, where it registered 33 % of the votes, but also in Brussels, where it reached almost double the consensus. The political elections of May 2003 saw a further affirmation of the VB, which from the 15 seats in 1999 went to 18 (and which in November 2004would change its name to Vlaams Belang, Flemish Interest), alongside a revival of traditional parties: the two liberal parties recorded a significant increase, from 41 to 49 seats (the Walloon list in 2002 had transformed into a party, assuming the name of Mouvement réformateur), the socialists, from 33 to 48 seats (their Flemish branch, which in 2001 became Sociaal Progressief Alternatief, SP.A, Alternativa social progressista, had presented itself with the small regional party Spirit), the Christian-social , 32 to 39(also here the Flemish branch in 2001 had adopted a new name, Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams Partij, Christian-Democratic and Flemish party), while the ecologists of ÉCOLO and AGALEV (the latter presented himself with the new name of Groen!, Verdi !) suffered a serious defeat (from 20 to 4 seats). The new Verhofstadt cabinet, formed in July 2003 and made up of liberals and socialists, was faced with the further strengthening of the far right of the VB (European and regional elections of June 2004), while in October 2005the new welfare measures and the pension reform project encountered strong opposition in the country, which experienced its first general strike since 1993.