Flemish MPs reject independence call

11th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

11 September 2007, BRUSSELS (AFP) - The Flemish parliament on Monday rejected a far-right call to work towards independence from the rest of Belgium, amid a political crisis pitting the Dutch-speaking Flemish north and francophone south.

11 September 2007

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The Flemish parliament on Monday rejected a far-right call to work towards independence from the rest of Belgium, amid a political crisis pitting the Dutch-speaking Flemish north and francophone south.

"You have a historic task to make our people a nation and create our own Flemish state," Filip Dewinter, head of the Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) party, told the regional parliament in Flanders.

He said that the Flemish parliament should put forward plans for autonomy and that if these were rejected by the francophone side then should work towards independence.

However his independence rally garnered little support among the Flemish MPs, with just the 32 Vlaams Belang members backing it in the 127-seat chamber.

The new Flemish minister-president, Christian-Democrat Kris Peeters, called for patience and for negotiations to continue with the francophones.

Dewinter's call came exactly three months after a Belgian general election on 10 June since which the political parties in Flanders and francophone Wallonia have been unable to come together and form a coalition government.

The impasse is over Flemish demands for more power to be given to regional governments: many politicians in Belgium's poorer French-speaking region already fear this could lead to the country splitting up.

As the Flemish MPs gathered to consider Dewinter's call, a group of students from a group close to Vlaams Belang shouted "Independence for Flanders" and "Break up Belgium".

However in the chamber itself, a stone's throw from the palace of King Albert II and the federal parliament, the debate remained restrained.

Dewinter, in a measured voice, reprised his party's mantra that "Belgium is in a terminal phase" and "it is high time to administer euthanasia".

He said that the impasse in the negotiations to form a government was due to the francophone refusal to accept Flemish demands for autonomy since 1999.

He called on the regional parliament to approve an autonomy statute then put it to a referendum of the Flemish people

Those people make up 60 percent of Belgium's 10.5 million people, with 3.5 million in Wallonia and one million in the largely francophone Brussels capital region.

Brussels, the country's third official region, is the only place which is officially bilingual, with road signs and administrative documents in French and Dutch. It is also home to European Union institutions.

Along with Peeters, other speakers in the Flemish parliamentary debate voiced opposition to a referendum on autonomy.

"The negotiations with the francophones are not easy, but there is no reason to choose another path," said Christian-Democrat Ludwig Decaluwe.

Socialist MP Patricia Ceysens, accused Vlaams Belang of engaging in gesture politics and risking making Flanders "the laughing-stock of Europe".

[Copyright AFP 2007]

Subject: Belgian news

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