Fifth column: Slip of the tongue

Summary

Minister-president Geert Bourgeois' comments on the eve of Flander's national holiday were met with a strong reaction from other parties

Spitting image

Only weeks ago, the streets in Flanders were full of Belgian flags. On Flanders’ national holiday, 11 July, there were Flemish lion flags hanging from windows. Most Flemish people see no contradiction in that. They feel both Belgian – especially when the national football team is playing – and Flemish.

Flemish nationalists are an exception to that. They feel Flemish first and foremost. Most of them care very little for Belgium and can’t wait for Flanders to become independent.

On the eve of the national holiday, Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois of nationalists N-VA called for the constitution to be declared open for revision before the 2019 federal elections. This is a necessary step for another round of state reform, which the nationalists hope will eventually dissolve Belgium.

According to Bourgeois (pictured), Belgium consists of two democracies. To illustrate this, he recalled the recent strikes, which lasted much longer among French-speakers. “The language border has become a strike border and the Flemish spit on that,” he said. It was a slip of the tongue, which overshadowed the 11 July festivities.

The other Flemish parties reacted strongly. “As CD&V, we do not spit on people,” vice minister-president Hilde Crevits said. Others called for the holiday to be a celebration and for Bourgeois to speak not as a nationalist but as minister-president.

Bourgeois reacted: “I was using an image to complain about a problem,” he said. “It's beyond belief that anyone might think I or my party would spit on people.”

The Bourgeois administration is in fact in better shape than it was last year. Bart Tommelein, who replaced Annemie Turtelboom as Open VLD vice minister-president and finance and energy minister, has brought a new dynamism to the team.

Rather than agonising about the debt brought on by over-subsidising solar panels in the past, he is pushing towards more renewable energy, while the government has come up with agreements on the reform of child allowance, secondary education and the provinces.

However, there are still clouds over Bourgeois I, which still has to decide on the UPlace leisure and shopping centre just outside Brussels. UPlace lacks support, as it is feared it will cause extra traffic jams and draw away customers from local shops. N-VA insists on granting it all the necessary permits, though, as the issue has become a symbol of legal certainty.

Photo courtesy VRT

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).
6

million people live in the Flemish Region.

5

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

5

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