Belgian francophone parties suspend political talks with Flemish
The row centres around the disputed election of francophone mayors in suburbs of Brussels.
25 November 2008
BRUSSELS - Belgium's intercommunal feud flared again Tuesday as leaders of the main French-speaking political parties declared that talks with their Flemish counterparts on federal reform had been "suspended".
The row centres around the disputed election of francophone mayors in suburbs of Brussels which form part of Dutch-speaking Flanders.
The impasse marks an escalation in the long-running row between Belgium's two main communities, the richer Dutch-speaking northern region of Flanders and the poorer francophone Wallonia region to its south.
The capital Brussels is the only officially bilingual region in the country.
The mainly francophone Brussels suburbs, which fall within Flanders, have become a flashpoint for the country's intercommunal tensions.
The suspension of talks followed the refusal by Marino Keulen, a minister of the Flemish regional government, on Monday to ratify the election of French-speaking mayors in three of those suburbs, Crainhem, Wezembeek-Oppem and Linkebeek.
"We ask the Flemish government minister-president Kris Peeters whether his government backs this decision," said Belgium's Finance Minister Didier Reynders after an emergency meeting with his colleagues in the four main francophone parties.
Without such an announcement, the intercommunal talks are "de facto suspended," added Isabelle Durant, co-president of the Ecolo green party,
Peeters will have to choose between backing his minister and moving forward with the national reform talks, which he is heading up, the francophone leaders said.
The decision not to respect the election of the three francophone mayors was made, according to the Flemish authorities, because linguistic rules concerning election documents were not respected.
Under these rules, information should not be sent out in French unless requested by individual voters.
For Flemish politicians, the mayors issue is symbolic of what they see as the creeping expansion of the influence of largely francophone Brussels, which sits within Flanders.
The state reform talks, now suspended, are an attempt by Belgium's main Dutch- and French-speaking parties to agree on how to devolve federal powers to the regions.
Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern half, where some 60 percent of Belgium's 10.5 million people live, has long sought more regional powers to reflect its prosperity.
It also resents subsidising the less affluent, French-speaking Wallonia region to its south.
Unable to paper over the linguistic faultline more than a year after general elections, Prime Minister Yves Leterme handed in his resignation in July but the king refused to accept it.
Since winning general elections in June 2007, Leterme has repeatedly failed to reconcile the demands of the two regions.