Fifth column: Pandora's box

Summary

The scandal around Samusocial has left many in Flanders wondering if it's possible to unwind the tangled web of Brussels politics

Complicated affairs

Flanders has been watching recent developments in Brussels with mouths agape. Reports that Brussels-City mayor Yvan Mayeur (PS) made money off an organisation that organises homeless shelters were beyond most people’s imagination. In the end, Mayeur had to step down, as even his own party could not justify his behaviour.

PS, the French-speaking socialists, have been blamed for much of what goes wrong in Brussels. In Flanders’ view, the way Brussels is governed is much too complicated, with 19 municipalities, one regional government and two language communities having their say. This has led to absurd situations, such as parking regulations differing from one side of the road to the other.

Now it has been revealed that Brussels institutions also harbour a number of obscure organisations that are financially advantageous to numerous Brussels politicians, both Flemish and French-speaking. Simplification and slimming down seem the obvious answers.

The Flemish have always favoured transferring power from the municipalities to the regional level, which they see as a more efficient government branch in the capital. This idea has little support among French-speaking politicians. The 19 municipalities are their local strongholds, divided up between the two large parties PS and MR.

Just as Flanders finds it hard to merge smaller rural municipalities, one can imagine how much resistance there is to a similar operation with much larger populations and more politicians to defend their power bases.

When talk turns to simplification, Brussels’ French-speakers often point to the Brussels parliament (pictured). As a protected minority, the Flemish have a guaranteed representation of 17 out of 89 seats in parliament. Reducing the number of MPs would thus mean reducing the number of Flemish in power.

Also, it would open another round of state reforms, as the protection of the Flemish  in Brussels is linked to a number of other compromises. Is that what the Flemish want? their francophone colleagues ask.

Everyone agrees that Brussels needs to take a long hard look at itself and that more transparency and efficiency is needed. But adjusting the Brussels institutions opens up a Pandora’s box.

Then again, some argue, nothing could be worse than the spectacle we have witnessed in recent days.