The cartoon character Calimero is a hapless chick, fresh out of the egg, whose famous line is: “This is not fair; they are big and I am small.” When other parties claim that Jean-Marie Dedecker has a Calimero-complex, this is exactly what they mean. Man-of-the-moment Dedecker likes to present things as if the whole world is against him.
Sometimes, though, Dedecker, like Calimero, is simply unlucky. This was the case when Dirk Vijnck, a member of the federal parliament, slammed the doors on Dedecker’s party LDD. Vijnck was a complete unknown, yet Dedecker cannot but regret his departure, as this reduces the number of LDD members of parliament from five to four. It also means that LDD no longer qualifies as a “political group” and thus finds itself robbed of finance and personnel. This is not fair, as Calimero would say.
To prevent exactly this type of situation, the Flemish parliament has a rule. Political groups are recognised soon after the elections. Once a political group is established, defectors have no influence on its financing. Tough luck again for Dedecker, however, as his party has welcomed three newcomers but gets no extra money or staff. What would Calimero say?
Dedecker makes it appear as if the other parties shut him out deliberately. This is not entirely correct. The rules were not created just for this. What is true, though, is that the larger a party, the more it benefits from this system of financing. The disadvantage of being small is something Calimero knows all too well.
Dedecker, a former judo coach, fights back in his own way, with yet another revelation up his sleeve: his former party, the liberal Open VLD, has used some of the means it receives for its political group in the province of Flemish Brabant to finance election propaganda. This practice is not uncommon, but it is against the rules of the Flemish government.
With this new scandal, Dedecker plays on a popular sentiment – namely, that politicians are only out to enrich themselves. A recent study by the Catholic Univeristy of Leuven provides some extra ammunition. It shows that political parties receive no less than €50 million in government funding every year. Government financing was introduced in the 1990s, following several cases of corruption involving private financing. Parties say that the money allows them to make politics more professional, by, for instance, funding research centres. Still, propaganda remains one of the main uses.
As we went to press, the news broke that Dirk Vijnck had decided not to turn his back on LDD after all. So Dedecker’s party gets to keep its financing and staff in the federal chamber.
Now what would Calimero say about that?