Heated debate after warning against separatism

3rd February 2006, Comments 0 comments

3 February 2006, BRUSSELS — The speech by King Albert II on Tuesday warning the nation's public authorities against separatism has sparked heated debate in political circles this week.

3 February 2006

BRUSSELS — The speech by King Albert II on Tuesday warning the nation's public authorities against separatism has sparked heated debate in political circles this week.

Christian Democrat CD&V MP Eric Van Rompuy said the King's call to avoid "open or veiled separatism" was at odds with the views of the opposition grouping CD&V and New Flemish Alliance NV-A that state reforms were needed and that they should yield greater socio-economic autonomy to the nation's regional governments.

The Flemish Parliament MP also claimed the King was acting more like the spokesman for Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt than the monarch.

Verhofstadt denied he was using King Albert's statement to hinder a new round of reform. He stressed that he is not opposed to state reform and the transfer of powers so long as it is carried out based on pure pragmatic reasons rather than ideological notions of splitting the country up.

The prime minister did not disagree with the King's speech though, pointing out that he is also opposed to separatism, but stressed further that this does not mean he is opposed to state reform.

"The pursuit of regions and communities [for state reform] is legitimate. Whoever makes an amalgam of separatism and state reform has bad intentions," he said.

The Liberal VLD repeated that message as federal MPs debated the issue on Thursday night and attacked concerns raised by the Flemish Interest and NV-A, stressing that whenever the King distanced himself from separatism a reaction from the extreme-right would always follow.

"That is logical, they [the extreme-right] are opposed to the King, opposed to the monarchy and opposed to the continued existence of Belgium," Verhofstadt said.

In a land divided by language and ruled by a complex set of federalised institutions and laws, the issue of state reform, autonomy for the linguistic regions and regional independence is a highly sensitive issue.

However, the federal government agreed last year to enter into state reform talks with the regional governments in 2007 and Verhofstadt reaffirmed his commitment to those talks this week.

The prime minister said the talks should cover three main items: reform of federal institutes (such as reform of the Senate], problems in the communities along the linguistic borders such as the electoral district Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde and the transfer of powers.

Meanwhile, the King's speech was also criticised in the Flemish Parliament, where many MPs said the statement was an attack against Flemish ambitions for new state reform.

However, Flemish Premier Yves Leterme was adamant, stressing that the Flemish government would not be influenced by the speech. "The King has no role in our Flemish structures; he plays no role in the Flemish government accord," he said.

Leterme outlined further that state reform should yield more powers and responsibilities to the regions and communities.

The premier also met with the King shortly after his controversial speech and sources have indicated King Albert told Leterme his speech was not designed as an attack on Flemish ambitions.

[Copyright Expatica News 2006]

Subject: Belgian news

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