Fifth column: What happens in Linkebeek...

Summary

The town may be small, but what happens in Linkebeek, just outside Brussels, doesn't always stay in Linkebeek

Anja Otte's take on the week in politics

Located in Flanders, Linkebeek's official language is Dutch, but, as a “facilities commune”, its French-speaking residents can conduct their official business in French. This is the result of a typical “Belgian compromise”, resulting in the so-called language laws.

The language issues have not been settled entirely, though, as Dutch and French speakers interpret the language laws differently. To French speakers, municipalities such as Linkebeek are essentially bilingual. They like to think of them as being part of Brussels, which is officially bilingual.

The Flemish, on the other hand, stress the exceptional nature of the facilities: Yes, French can be used in dealing with administration, but only on request.

This  explains why some French-speaking mayors of these towns breached – deliberately – the language laws, sending out the letters that invite citizens to the polls in French, rather than in Dutch, as the law requires. This has led to a tug-of-war between the mayors of some municipalities and the government of Flanders, which has refused to re-appoint them after the elections.

As a result, Linkebeek has gone without an officially appointed mayor since the 2012 elections. Flemish minister Liesbeth Homans (N-VA) has now decided to take the matter into her own hands. First she asked an alderman to be mayor, but he declined, siding with mayor Damien Thièry (MR), who Homans refuses to appoint.

In a surprise move, Homans recently appointed Eric De Bruycker (pictured), a (Flemish) member of the opposition in the Linkebeek city council. The French speakers are up in arms about it, calling the move “a lack of respect for democracy”. The matter is also embarrassing to prime minister Charles Michel, who belongs to the same party as the “wronged” Thièry.

At the start of the current federal government coalition, N-VA pledged to leave aside language and institutional demands, deeming economic issues more pressing for Flanders’ welfare. Under these condition, Michel’s MR agreed to enter government – and even got the prime minister’s seat in the end.

To many Flemish, this was the sensible thing to do, as was the long-awaited nomination of a mayor in Linkebeek. But many French speakers see Michel as a puppet on a string. The Linkebeek saga reinforces both views. 

Photo courtesy VRT

De Rand

The belt of Flemish municipalities surrounding the Brussels-Capital Region are collectively known as de Rand, or the periphery.
Language - Unlike the bilingual districts of the Brussels-Capital Region, the official language of the peripheral municipalities is Dutch, as they are situated in the Flemish region.
Accommodations - Six of De Rand municipalities (Drogenbos, Kraainem, Linkebeek, Sint-Genesius-Rode, Wemmel and Wezembeek-Oppem) are faciliteitengemeenten. In these districts, French-speaking residents were offered limited language accommodations in education and public services starting in the 1960s.
Flemish character - In recent decades, many municipalities have adopted measures to safeguard the Flemish character of local communities following the growing number of French-speaking and international residents.
1

in five residents of de Rand has foreign roots

19

municipalities

414

total population of de Rand in 2013