Belgian mayors row faces Council of Europe vote

2nd December 2008, Comments 0 comments

Council of Europe could put Belgium's local government system on probation.

1 December 2008

STRASBOURG - The Council of Europe could put Belgium's local government system on probation Tuesday after a row over a Flemish minister barring three democratically-elected Francophone mayors from taking office.

The Council's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRA) will vote at their plenary session in Strasbourg whether to monitor Belgium more closely following the row, which has fuelled accusations that the method of appointing mayors in Brussels and the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders is undemocratic.

Marino Keulen, a Flemish regional government minister, has twice refused to ratify the appointments of Damien Thiéry, Arnold d’Oreye de Lantremange and François van Hoobrouck d’Aspres and allow them to take up their mayoral positions in three Brussels suburbs.

Keulen argues the three politicans did not respect linguistic rules in force in Flanders on election documents.

Under these rules, information should not be sent out in French unless requested by individual voters

The suburbs in question are mainly inhabited by French speakers, although geographically they form part of Dutch-speaking Flanders.

A report by French CLRA member Michel Guegan and Serbia's Dobrica Milovanovic say the language law could dissuade citizens from participating in elections and Keulen's actions are disproportionate.

They also recommend that the Belgian government reviews the way mayors are appointed in Flanders and Brussels as it breaches the Council's European Charter on local government.

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. Since 2007, the three suburbs in question have been without a mayor.

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. There is also a small German-speaking community.

Flanders, 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 Wallonia.


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