Leo Albert Elisabeth Peeters was born in Kapelle-op-den-Bos in May 1950. He was first elected to the town's municipal council in 1977, and immediately became mayor. In 1989 he was elected to the national parliament, which he left in 1995 to become minister of employment and social affairs in the Flemish government. Later the same year he also took on the portfolio of internal affairs.
It was in that capacity that, in December 1997, he issued what has become known as the Peeters circular, sent to the governors of the five provinces in Flanders region, and laying down the rules for the official use of language in the Dutch-speaking areas. Its most controversial aspect concerned the interpretation of the language laws in the so-called facility municipalities, mainly in the area surrounding Brussels. Those facilities had been laid down earlier, but the Peeters circular took a restricted view of the exceptions to the language laws provided for the French-speaking minority.
The facilities, in Flemish eyes, had been intended as a transitional regime to allow French-speakers already living in the areas concerned to integrate into the over-arching Dutch-language regime. That, however, turned out not to be the case in practice, as more and more French-speakers – both native speakers and foreigners whose second language was French – came and settled in the municipalities concerned.
The Peeters circular, in effect, made it more difficult for non-Dutch speakers to avail themselves of the right to communicate in French with the local authorities, by forcing them to make a specific request for facilities every time a municipal service was called upon. Previously, facilities had been extended to French-speakers automatically upon a single request.
The circular was attacked by French-speaking politicians not only in the areas concerned, but also in Brussels and Wallonia. Opposition led to a battle in the courts, with the Council of State finally upholding the circular. As Peeters himself bows out of politics, his circular is still in force. Peeters left the Flemish government in 1999, but stepped back into the headlines five years later as the representative of the mayors of the municipalities around Brussels, who were calling for the electoral district Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde to be split.
That problem still awaits an outcome.