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Flanders sets out to conquer Brussels

The Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden wants to bring the capital of Europe back to the rank of sub-region, causing an outcry on the French-speaking side.

Max HELLEFF

Max HELLEFF

The Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden wants to bring the capital of Europe back to the rank of sub-region, causing an outcry on the French-speaking side.

From our correspondent Max HELLEFF (Brussels) – In the midst of a health crisis, institutional controversies are reinvigorated in Belgium. The Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden indeed pleads for a new reform of the State which would lead to bring back Brussels to a lower level of autonomy, making its region a sub-entity.

Brussels, capital of Belgium and Europe, is the Gordian knot of Belgian politics. Since 1962, when the linguistic border was fixed between north and south, Brussels appears on the map as a French-speaking enclave in the Flemish country. Flanders had long hoped to take control of it before an autonomous Brussels region was created. But she never gave up.

The proof is in the proposal of the Flemish Christian Democrat Annelies Verlinden, Minister of the Interior as well as Institutional Reforms and Democratic Renewal. In its ideal institutional plan, Belgium would remain a federal state, but would in the future be made up of two federated entities (Flanders and Wallonia) and two sub-entities (Brussels and the German-speaking part. Ostbelgien). The inhabitants of Brussels and the German speakers would find themselves under the control of the Flemings and the Walloons whereas, today, the country is divided into three Regions and three Communities.

A French-speaking majority

This proposal immediately sparked an outcry on the French-speaking side. But Annelies Verlinden is holding on. She compares the structure of the Belgian state to “a house where you wonder if you should repair it or just demolish it. For me, there is only one answer: we have to build ”. She says she wants to seek a consensus “without taboos”. The minister hopes to see this umpteenth state reform completed for Belgium’s 200th anniversary in 2030.

Defenders of Brussels autonomy argue that by acquiring greater power over the current Brussels-Capital Region, Flanders will be able to shape the city as it pleases, whether at the political, social or economic level. It will thus strengthen its position in the Belgian State, but also internationally. It will be able to control the demography of the capital, with the possibility of “Flemish” Brussels, where French-speaking people are present in the vast majority.

For the time being, francophones do not want to hear anything. “Brussels is a region in its own right with a multiple identity which deserves to be respected”, tweeted Ecolo Rajae Maouane. Deputy Prime Minister PS Pierre-Yves Dermagne evokes a “false start” in the institutional work for which Minister Verlinden is in charge.

Under the Michel government, the communal hatchet had been buried with the agreement of the Flemish nationalists of Bart De Wever, in exchange for their first accession to federal power. As for the De Croo government, it is currently focusing on covid and its consequences.

A fourth regional entity

However, if the institutional debate were to take precedence, one side could come out on top of this tumult: the German-speaking community. According to Walloon Minister Jean-Luc Crucke, Minister Verlinden’s exit has the advantage “of achieving unanimity between Walloons and Brussels residents to say that German speakers should be able to become a Region”. The advent of this fourth regional entity – therefore on a par with Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia – would give more autonomy to the 70,000 German speakers in the east of the country while redistributing the political and institutional cards at the national level.


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