EU probes into housing discrimination in Belgium

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The European Commission is looking into complaints that French-speakers are discriminated against buying public land in the town of Zaventem because they don’t speak Dutch.

11 September 2008  

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission said Wednesday it was seeking information from the Belgian authorities over complaints that French-speakers are discriminated against over public housing.

A justice spokesman said the commission sent a letter on 22 August for clarification about reports that a number of Dutch-speaking communes are making the use of their regional language a condition for access to public homes.

"We have received a number of complaints about the conditions that are put in place by these municipalities in order to rent public housing, buy land or receive minimum social wages," he said.

"There is European legislation that rules out direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of nationality, for example, or on the basis of language," the spokesman Michele Cercone said.

He said that commission was awaiting a response.

In March, a United Nations committee expressed concern that Belgium's Flemish community had adopted a decree "restricting access to social housing to persons who speak or make the commitment to learn Dutch".

The committee voiced concern that the town of Zaventem, near Brussels, was restricting the sale of public land to Dutch-speakers or people committed to learning Dutch.

The language divide is a long-running problem in Belgium, pitting the richer Dutch-speaking north of Flanders against poorer Francophone Wallonia in the south.

Only the Brussels capital region is officially bilingual with, for example, road signs in both languages.

The divide has been at the root of a political crisis in the kingdom, which borders both France and the Netherlands, amid a struggle by Flanders to win more powers.

The French community regards the housing language rules as thinly veiled measures to keep them out of Dutch-speaking Flanders.

The Flemish authorities argue that the rules are there to foster community spirit in the Dutch-speaking region, so that everyone can talk to their neighbours.

[AFP / Expatica]

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