Council of Europe urges Belgium to resolve linguistic dispute

15th May 2008, Comments 3 comments

Belgium has been found guilty of breaching obligations under a European charter on local democracy, says envoys of council.

15 May 2008

BRUSSELS - Council of Europe envoys urged Belgian authorities Wednesday to resolve a dispute over Francophone mayors in three areas on the Flemish outskirts of the Belgian capital.

A fact-finding team from the Council of Europe, a leading human rights watchdog, said Belgium has breached its obligations under a European charter on local democracy, which it has signed.

The Flemish regional authorities refused to appoint French-speaking mayors in 2007 in the affluent municipalities of Linkebeek, Wezembeek-Oppem and Kraainem, which are officially part of Flanders, but where the majority of inhabitants speak French.

Flemish officials argued some of the election papers had been sent in French even though Dutch should be used in official correspondence and at city councils.

The issue goes to the heart of the linguistic dispute that left the country without a government for months after last year's parliamentary elections. The spat over the mayors has dragged on since January 2007.

The Council of Europe team, led by Michel Guegan, a mayor of a small village in the French region of Brittany, said Francophones in the three municipalities are being deprived of their right to participate in local matters.

"This is not an acceptable situation with regard to local autonomy," Guegan said, adding that the situation was "serious."

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, can make recommendations to its 47 member states, but cannot impose sanctions on them for noncompliance with rules.

Belgium, a country of 4.5 million Francophones and 6 million Dutch speakers, is bitterly divided along linguistic lines. The long-standing dispute is threatening to bring down a fragile five-party government of Prime Minister Yves Leterme two months after it came to power.

Flemish parties are pushing for a plan to strip tens of thousands of French speakers of the right to vote for Francophone parties by splitting a bilingual electoral district around Brussels.

The district is in Flanders, and Flemish parties are trying to prevent an increase of French-speaking people from moving to the area outside the Belgian capital. They insist the district should become monolingual Dutch-speaking.

In 2003, Belgium's constitutional court declared illegal the boundaries of the voting district that joins two officially Dutch-speaking areas to Brussels, Belgium's bilingual capital.

Belgian politicians, however, have persistently failed to agree on changes, with French-speaking politicians resisting reforms that would prevent the large Francophone minority in the outskirts of Brussels from voting for parties from their own linguistic group.

[AP / Expatica]

3 Comments To This Article

  • Karim Van Overmeire posted:

    on 18th May 2008, 15:35:13 - Reply

    M. Pinel should check the figures. Last year, the Flemish VDAB offered 5.000 job vacancies to the Walloon Forum. Only 318 unemployed Walloons accepted a job, and very few of them moved to Flanders.
    Immigration into Flanders of poor unemployed Walloons is in fact very limited. Apparently, those people prefer to stay in Wallonia where they enjoy the advantages of the Belgian welfare system. The investment of 'Belgian federal money' (in fact 70% Flemish) in Wallonia is going on for several decades now, and has unfortunately shown very little result. Not because of a lack of money, but maybe because the socialist style economic policy of Wallonia isn't very effective?
    However, immigrants in the Flemish municipalities around Brussels are not poor Walloons but rich French-speaking bourgeois who show nothing but contempt (if not racism) to the local Flemish population. I wouldn't even care about that, but the Francophone demands for the annexation of Flemish territory once they form a majority, is just one step too far.
  • Stephen Pinel posted:

    on 18th May 2008, 11:36:56 - Reply

    I find it hard to believe that the previous poster is seriously comparing internal job-seeking migration within Belgium to the Nazi annexation of Austria. Francophone Belgians are moving into Flanders for a combination of two reasons. Firstly, a lack of jobs in Wallonia, and secondly, jobs being available in Flanders that are not being filled locally, by the Flemish. These two conditions together will always cause migration from one area to another. This is one of the great drivers of migration around the world (along with war and famine).

    (I'd also put money on the previous poster also being against Federal Belgian money being invested in Wallonia, the sort of money that would create jobs in the south, and keep those nasty goose-stepping Francophones out of his nice Flemish village. But that's just a guess.)
  • Karim Van Overmeire posted:

    on 17th May 2008, 13:52:26 - Reply

    The splitting of the bilingual electoral disctrict Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde would NOT strip the French speakers in Flanders of the right to vote for Francophone parties. French-speaking candidates can stand in elections in Flanders. French speakers have representatives in the Flemish Parliament and in several Flemish municipalities.
    The splitting of Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde would comply to the ruling of the Constitutional Court that stressed the illogical situation of a voting district that crosses provincial boundaries.
    This is not about the rights of French speakers, but about their ambitions for an Anschluss/annexation of Flemish territory.