Minister-president calls for increased regional powers
On the eve of Flemish Community Day, Geert Bourgeois has said Belgium needs to reform its constitution once again and devolve more powers from the federal to the regional governments
Despite an agreement at federal level to call a moratorium on language community issues to ease the functioning of the coalition – which includes Bourgeois’ own Flemish nationalist N-VA party for the first time – divisions between Flemish and French-speaking communities remain, Bourgeois said. “We have to remain alert and defend the interests of the Flemish people,” he said.
The way to do that, he said, is to reform the Belgian state again, handing new powers to the regions. That will be the N-VA platform for the elections in 2019, when voters will be asked to elect federal and regional representatives.
Speaking on VTM News, he talked about recent strike action by prison officers and rail staff, which was mainly followed by French-speaking unions.
“I think people vividly recall the outrageous strikes in the prisons and on the railways,” he said. “The language border has become the strike border, and the people of Flanders spit on it. They will not accept not being able to go to work and not being able to move around as they please.”
Other politicians were quick to respond to Bourgeois’ statement. “In CD&V we don’t spit on people, even if we disagree with certain choices made on the other side of the language border,” said Hilde Crevits, a member of Bourgeois’ government. Bart Tommelein, another fellow minister, pointed out that Bourgeois was speaking in his own name, not that of the Flemish government.
Bourgeois responded that he "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.”
Flemish Community Day is also the occasion for the government to announce the recipients of community honours, given to people who have contributed to the positive image of Flanders.
This year, honours are awarded to 10 people. They include philosopher Etienne Vermeersch, child psychologist Peter Adriaenssens, athlete Marieke Vervoort, former politician Miet Smet, businessmen Jef Roos and Karel Vinck and cartoonist Marc Neels, known as Marc Sleen.
Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga