Tommelein, wat doe je nu?
When Tom Boonen became cycling world champion in 2005, a sports commentator shouted out: “Tommeke, Tommeke, Tommeke, wat doe je nu?” (Little Tom, what are you doing now?”). It has since become an expression in Flanders. Now, political journalists are asking: “Tommelein, Tommelein, Tommelein, wat du je nu?”
Bart Tommelein (a member of the liberal Open VLD party) chairs the Fortis commission, which is now drawing to a close. He knew from the start that he was not in for an easy ride, but he cannot have imagined how much of an ordeal it would turn out to be.
The parliamentary inquiry into the allegation that government ministers breached the separation of powers in the Fortis affair has turned into something of a spectacle, with former prime minister Yves Leterme and finance minister Didier Reynders issuing conflicting declarations and magistrates fighting bitterly in public.
Like so many Flemish politicians, Tommelein has roots in the small nationalist Volksunie, which was disbanded at the turn of the century. His nickname, “the Kennedy of Ostend” (a pub owner coined it because of his looks at the time), has now become a bit of a burden to the liberal and is now mostly used by his adversaries.
Tommelein began his career as a bank director. He was lured into politics by Patrick Dewael of the Open VLD, who made him his spokesman during his time as Flemish minister-president. After that, no Flemish journalist could truly say that he had never heard of Tommelein, who was a very active, if slightly vain, communicator. Tommelein has subsequently remained extremely loyal to Dewael – so much so that Jean-Marie Dedecker called him “the man who took skiing lessons so he could carry Dewael’s skis up the slope”.
As a fellow Ostend politician, Tommelein tried for a long time to keep Dedecker on board Open VLD. When that became impossible, he played a role in Dedecker’s inevitable ousting. (That party loyalty again.) Tommelein was rewarded with the job of Open VLD’s floor leader in the House – a function that demands a lot of…party loyalty.
So now the Fortis commission has become stranded in a legal muddle. It cannot get to the bottom of what happened at the time the courts had their say about the Fortis-BNP Paribas deal. On Monday, Tommelein asked for a second chance – for the commission, not for himself, as he is set to transfer to the Flemish Parliament after the elections in July.
He would have preferred to stay in the federal parliament longer, but when his party, Open VLD, asked him to head the West Flanders list, Tommelein just could not refuse. Will he be rewarded again and become minister in the next Flemish government?