N-VA unveils radical plan for Brussels

Summary

The Flemish nationalist party N-VA unveiled a radical plan for Brussels yesterday, which would strip the capital of its status as a full region

Flemish party proposes having Brussels communes choose between Flanders and Wallonia

On the second day of announcements leading up to its congress in January, the Flemish nationalist party N-VA unveiled a radical plan for Brussels yesterday, which would strip the capital of its status as a full region. There would be just two regions left under the N-VA’s plan – Flanders and Wallonia.

The capital would be downgraded to an entity called Regio Brussel Hoofdstad and would retain limited responsibilities linked to “territory”, such as the economy, employment and public works. Meanwhile, social security and taxation would be dealt with separately by Flanders and Wallonia, with residents of Brussels being required to choose one of the regions to join for tax and social security purposes.  

N-VA party president Bart De Wever still sees a role for Belgium in certain areas such as defence and asylum policy. But the number of ministers in the federal government would be cut from the current 15 to just six. The office of prime minister would disappear, and federal ministers would be appointed by the two regions.  

Under the N-VA plan, which is set to be debated at its congress in order to form a platform for next May’s elections, the House of Representatives would be reduced to 50 members of parliament – 25 appointed by each region. The king would remain in office, but his role would be strictly ceremonial, along the lines of Scandinavian monarchies.

The country would no longer have its own diplomats but would be represented by Flemish and Walloon ambassadors. At meetings of the European Council, Flanders and Wallonia would send representatives to alternative meetings. But Belgium as a country would no longer be represented.

“A slap in the face for Brussels”

N-VA’s proposals were swiftly condemned as impossible by political parties, unions and academics. The plan for Brussels came in for particularly fierce criticism from both Flemish and French-speaking parties. The Flemish socialist party SP.A said that it was a “slap in the face for the people of Brussels” while the Flemish liberal Guy Vanhengel, who sits in the Brussels Parliament, said it was “unworkable.”

This would be a nightmare scenario for Spain, France and Great Britain

- Carl Devos

In an interview on Radio 1 programme Vandaag, Vanhengel said that the N-VA was forcing Brussels citizens to choose between their mother and their father and that “the people of Brussels don’t want to choose.” He added that the plans would affect the rights of Brussels residents. “The people of Brussels will become stateless,” he said. “The two large entities, Flanders and Wallonia, will run Brussels, and the citizens of Brussels will become second-class citizens who have to go begging to Antwerp or Namur.”

Federal interior minister Joelle Milquet said that the N-VA plan for Brussels was “totally unacceptable” and that “it didn’t merit long articles in the press, in the light of its totally excessive and provocative character.” She added that the plan would threaten the country’s political stability.

Flemish political analyst Carl Devos described the plans as “very clear and very ambitious”, but he raised doubts about whether the party, even if it emerged from the 2014 elections with 40% of the votes, would find any partners to implement any of the proposals. Devos also questioned whether the EU member states would allow Belgium to be represented by Flemish and Walloon minister-presidents. “This would be a nightmare scenario for Spain, France and Great Britain,”  he added.