Europe, he said, is not something that goes on in a land far away. “More than two-thirds of the legislation in this country originates with the EU. European and Flemish policy have to be complementary – Flanders and Europe have to grow in their alliance. Flanders needs to be directly responsible, at ministerial level, whenever Europe is discussing transport and energy. It’s only normal that we should plead our own case when it comes to road safety or car safety standards. Or when the discussion is about energy infrastructure to ensure that every family and every business has access to electricity at a fair price.
“That is not enough. We also want to be there when the ministers for foreign affairs and finance come together,” he said. “They, after all, prepare the European summits where discussions take place about economic growth, jobs and budget discipline – in short about subjects which are of prime importance to Flanders.”
Federal foreign affairs minister Didier Reynders, who Peeters in his speech had said “must not be allowed to stand in the way”, did not agree.
Speaking on VRT radio, Reynders suggested “Flanders should perhaps solve its own problems before it demands a greater role on a European level” – a statement Peeters condemned as “insulting”. “Reynders refuses to accept reality,” he said. He was backed by party colleague Steven Vanackere, the federal finance minister who sits on the economics and finance council. Reynders should show more respect for his colleagues, Vanackere said, although he added: “I’ve never had the impression in those meetings that the regions had to be defended.”
Peeters also referred to the reform of the federal state, which was marked last week by the final decision in the federal parliament to split the electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde. The reforms, he said, would bring “major new responsibilities in the fields of labour market policy, health care, entrepreneurship and energy policy. We have to be allowed to make our voice heard in those areas. At the same time, these reforms have to be carried out quickly and correctly in our own country. The reform of the state presents us with opportunities we must not allow to slip by. They offer us the chance of a strengthened Flemish policy.”