French-speakers ponder possible break up

21st September 2007, Comments 0 comments

21 September 2007, BRUSSELS (AFP) - Amid concern that Flanders might yet declare independence as Belgium's political crisis drags on, French-speakers have begun to ponder the future of their Wallonia region and mainly Francophone Brussels.

21 September 2007

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Amid concern that Flanders might yet declare independence as Belgium's political crisis drags on, French-speakers have begun to ponder the future of their Wallonia region and mainly Francophone Brussels.

Tensions have been rising since the general elections more than 100 days ago, with Belgium's two largest communities -- there is also a German-speaking minority -- unable to overcome their differences and form a government.

"Today, Francophones have legitimate reasons to be concerned about a radicalisation among a number of Flemish representatives," Marie Arena, the head of Belgium's French-language Community said Thursday.

She proposed that a "Wallonia-Brussels Commission 2009" be set up "with the aim of redefining the Francophone project in a Belgium of contradictory and destructive streams."

Arena, speaking at a parliament representing the estimated 4.5 million French speakers in Wallonia and the Brussels region, said that around 40 people could take part, including ordinary citizens as well as politicians.

Her goal: to define a "common future within the federal state" or to propose "without taboos" a response to current Flemish demands which could lead to the break down of the state.

Belgium's federal state comprises around 10.5 million people, some 60 percent in relatively rich Flanders, 3.5 million people in Wallonia and one million in the largely Francophone but officially bilingual region of Brussels.

Since the elections, talks have been blocked largely over how much federal power -- on subjects like employment -- should be devolved to the regions, with Flanders in particular seeking more.

The outgoing government, under Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, has taken care of day-to-day business, but the Flemish Christian Democrats (CDV), who won the polls, have been unable to bridge the differences.

Up until now Belgium's Francophone parties have said that they are not seeking such reforms, but this has been perceived as obstinacy and exasperated people in the Flemish north.

Indeed a Flemish newspaper poll released Tuesday, 100 days after the 10 June polls, showed that nearly half the Dutch-speaking Flemish community wants Belgium to split up.

For the French-language daily Le Soir, Arena's "commission would at least have laid the foundations of a project for francophone life after the country breaks up."

Belgium's French-speakers, however, do not appear united on the way ahead.

The president of the Walloon regional parliament, Jose Happart, called Wednesday for a "period of reflection," but he wanted it limited to "the future of Wallonia alone."

"We have to know what we want for ourselves," he said.

Others insist on the need to strengthen the bonds between Wallonia and Brussels.

Belgian political science specialist Vincent Coorebyter told Le Soir that, in parallel, a Brussels region movement has begun to emerge.

He said that French- and Dutch-speakers, as well as others, in the city were "thinking about another model for the Brussels-Capital region and pondering, for example, bilingual education."

"Maria Arena can be congratulated for starting the debate," he noted. "But having said that, she may have underestimated the size of the task in front of her."

[Copyright AFP 2007]

Subject: Belgian news

0 Comments To This Article