Bart De Wever, president of the N-VA, the party that stoked the BHV fire, even preferred to go on a campaigning trip, rather than sit through the discussions in the Senate. Although he did vote against the propositions “with enthusiasm”.
BHV is split. Et alors? This is how University of Leuven political scientist Marc Hooghe describes the atmosphere of almost indifference surrounding BHV these days. He sees several reasons for this. One is predictability. With the split of BHV agreed between the majority parties, no surprises were anticipated in parliament – except for De Wever’s unexpected absence.
Another reason is the slightly odd position into which several Flemish parties have manoeuvred themselves. The parties that have been asking for the split the loudest – N-VA and Vlaams Belang – now vote against it because they are unhappy about the compromises made to the French speakers. CD&V, another party that has been preoccupied with BHV for years, and Open VLD, the party that caused the fall of the previous government over the issue, voted in favour. But in the light of N-VA’s growing popularity, they hesitate to present this vote as an achievement.
The third reason is the most fundamental: In spite of both the Flemish and Frenchspeaking rhetoric on the subject, the BHV vote ultimately does not change much about people’s lives in Brussels and its periphery. It is unlikely that the French speakers living in Flanders will suddenly drop their native tongue for Dutch, or move back to the capital, just because they can no longer vote for candidates from Brussels.
The only real effect will be felt by the Flemish minority in Brussels, which in the new system is too small to elect its own representative in the federal parliament – “collateral damage” that has been predicted for years.
So was BHV much ado about nothing? Actually, yes. Symbolic issues like this touch a raw nerve and stir up emotions in both Dutch and French speakers, which are often misunderstood. But in the end, even the Belgians get bored by it.