Belgian minister mocks Dutch counterparts
13 December 2005
AMSTERDAM — A new diplomatic row threatens to erupt between Belgium and the Netherlands after Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Freya Van den Bossche launched an extraordinary personal attack on her Dutch counterparts.
Interviewed in the Christmas edition of the ‘Vrij Nederland’ magazine, Van den Bossche, a member of the Flemish Socialist Party, referred to the petit bourgeois attitudes of Dutch ministers.
She asked sarcastically: “Do you have some times have employment advertisements in your newspapers that read: if you are not stiff, dowdy and petit bourgeois you will not come into consideration for a ministerial post?”
This is the second time this year that a Belgian minister has launched a personal attack on Dutch ministers.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and his Belgian counterpart Guy Verhofstadt agreed back in June to put an end to a diplomatic row sparked by ‘unacceptable’ criticism aimed at the Netherlands’ leader.
Both the Dutch and Belgian leaders said in a joint statement they had decided during a telephone conversation to put the matter behind them.
The diplomatic row erupted after Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht described Balkenende in a newspaper interview as “a mix of Harry Potter and goody-goody rigid, old fashioned conservative attitudes; a man in whom I cannot detect any trace of charisma”.
De Gucht offered his apologies in a letter to Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, but this was initially considered insufficient. Bot summoned the Belgian ambassador to a meeting and demanded an explanation.
Both Balkenende and Verhofstadt later said they regretted the interview De Gucht gave to Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’.
De Gucht initially claimed he was falsely quoted, stressing he only pointed out how the media described Balkenende. But the tape of the interview clearly indicated he had not referred to the media at all.
Instead — and despite saying he was an “intelligent man” — De Gucht described Balkenende as “een mix van Harry Potter en brave stijfburgerlijkheid, een man in wie ik geen spoortje charisma kan ontwaren”.
Newspaper cartoonists and comedians have frequently drawn a comparison between the looks of Balkenende and the fictional boy wizard Harry Potter. But it is the first time a senior politician in Europe has dared to make that link.
The term “brave” refers to being overly well-behaved or “goody-goody”, while “stijfburgerlijkheid” can be translated as rigidly middle class, bourgeois, provincial or small-minded.
Besides the statement itself, the Dutch government was very critical of De Gucht’s claim that he’d been misquoted. However, both Balkenende and Verhofstadt said good relations between the two countries deserved priority.
De Gucht made his remarks in an interview over the Dutch ‘no’ vote against the EU Constitution. He wanted to point out how fickle Dutch voters were, first supporting the charismatic Pim Fortuyn and then his opposite, Balkenende.
The comments from De Gucht, a Liberal VLD minister, sparked the most serious diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Belgium in years.
[Copyright Expatica News + ANP 2005]
Subject: Dutch + Belgian news