Fifth column: Burqini beach


The main parties are finding out just how divisive discussions about security, migration and religion can be

To each their own

Security, migration and religion again dominate the political debate and divide parties – in the coalition government but also from within.

SP.A party president John Crombez was the first to notice after he stated that “people on the left are sick and tired of the tone by which very young Muslims tell us what should be the norm”. Crombez pleaded for a flinks policy. The neologism flinks is derived from links – left – and flink – strict or tough. It is used to denote leftists who believe in law and order.

Not everyone in Crombez’ SP.A welcomed his words. Some rejected his “ethnic view on society,” others had more strategic objections. They pointed out what happened to former Antwerp mayor Patrick Janssens, after he banned the headscarf for city workers in public functions. The large Muslim electorate turned its back on the socialists, which is believed to have contributed to Bart De Wever and N-VA taking over city hall.

N-VA, too, has found out how divisive discussions about security, migration and religion can be. The party has never kept quiet about these issues, with one proposal after the other. The most recent is a ban of the “burqini” from Flemish beaches, such as those recently enacted by French resort towns.

This idea has caused a commotion on social media: Burqinis are rarely, if ever, seen at our coast. It’s the idea, not the practice, that causes offense. Maybe we should also ban white socks in sandals, some joked, as many find them offensive, too.

N-VA MP Hendrik Vuye’s objections were more serious. “Curbing freedom should … answer pressing needs”, he stated. Vuye (pictured) also objected to another N-VA proposal concerning a ban on speech that defended terrorism. “It is a common misconception that fighting terrorism warrants curbing freedom of speech,” he wrote in an op-ed.

Vuye’s move was notable, as N-VA is a very disciplined party showing very little dissent. Within N-VA, Vuye was characterised as a “professor, rather than a politician,” who may be frustrated. Some observers, however, see a divide between “legalists”, who may even include minister-president Geert Bourgeois, and hardliners.

Others believe that all this internal upset would never had happened if  Bart De Wever had not been away on holiday. By Monday he was back, signifying which side he was on by referring to burqinis as wearable “tents”.

Photo courtesy N-VA

Government of Flanders

Belgium is a federal state with several regional governments. The northern, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders is governed by the Flemish government, which was created when the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community joined forces in 1980. A minister-president presides over the government of Flanders, and Brussels is the capital city.
Competences - The government of Flanders is responsible for the economy, foreign trade, health care, energy, housing, agriculture, environmental concerns, public works and transport, employment policy, culture, education and science and innovation. Flanders also has the power to sign international treaties in these competencies.
Sole legislator - The powers of the Flemish government and of the federal government do not overlap. Therefore, only one government serves as legislator for each policy area. Flemish laws are called decrees. Decrees apply in co-ordination with federal laws.
Official holiday - 11 July is the official holiday of the Flemish Community, in commemoration of the Battle of the Golden Spurs in Kortrijk on 11 July 1302, when Flemings defeated the army of the French king. Flanders’ official anthem is “De Vlaamse Leeuw” (The Flemish Lion).

million people live in the Flemish Region.


provinces constitute the Flemish Region: West Flanders, East Flanders, Flemish Brabant, Antwerp and Limburg.


number of years for which the Flemish Parliament is elected. Its elections coincide with those of the European Parliament.