Language spat splits Belgium

2010-04-22 20:14
Belgian Premier Yves Leterme's government collapsed after negotiations broke down to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district. ( Yves Logghe, AP Photo)

Belgian Premier Yves Leterme's government collapsed after negotiations broke down to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district. ( Yves Logghe, AP Photo) (Yves Logghe)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Brussels - Belgian Premier Yves Leterme's government collapsed on Thursday after negotiations broke down to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch- and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district.

Dutch-speaking Liberals, one of Leterme's five coalition parties, quit the Cabinet, accusing its Francophone counterparts of blocking a deal to break up the Brussels-area district the constitutional court ruled illegal in 2003.

Leterme offered King Albert the resignation of his government.

The Belgian monarch did not immediately accept it, but began consultations with key politicians on the way forward. In a statement, the royal palace called a political crisis "inopportune".

It said it can harm "Belgium's role in Europe and at an international level" - a reference to fear that the political deadlock could drag into the second half of 2010 when Belgium is to hold the EU's rotating presidency.

That is not an unreasonable fear. Leterme's government took office March 20 2008 after a political impasse over a similar and related linguistic spat that lasted 194 days.

Linguistic disputes - rooted in history and economic differences - have long dominated politics in this country of 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million Francophones.

Divided

Belgium is divided in Dutch and French-speaking regions which determines what single language is used on everything from mortgages and traffic signs to election ballots and divorce papers.

In 2003, Belgium's Constitutional Court ruled the bilingual Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde voting district illegal because it violates the strict separation of Dutch and French-language regions. It comprises officially bilingual Brussels but also 20-odd towns in Dutch-speaking Flanders around the capital.

Dutch-speaking politicians have long complained the district lets Francophone parties in Brussels win votes in nearby Dutch-speaking Belgium.

After a 194-day political deadlock over linguistic issues, Leterme's alliance of Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists - split into Dutch and French-speaking camps - took office March 20, 2008.

But on Wednesday night the coalition failed to find a solution for the bilingual district.

Ex-Belgian premier Jean-Luc Dehaene put forward a deal to break up the district, but Dutch-speaking Liberals accused French-speaking parties of recalcitrance.

"We are the end of our rope," Guy Vanhengel, a Flemish Liberal said on Thursday. "I think that efforts to come to a negotiated settlement are not succeeding."

Overall, Belgium has three main regions: Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, economically-lagging Francophone Wallonia in the south and officially bilingual - but largely French-speaking - Brussels in the middle. The three regions have in the past 25 years acquired ever more autonomy.

As King Albert met with political leaders at the royal palace, about 15 members of the far-right Flemish Interest party sang the Flemish anthem and briefly hoisted a banner in the empty parliament chamber.

It read "Time For An Independent Flanders."

Flemish parties want their prosperous part of the country to be even more autonomous, notably by shifting taxes and some social security measures from the federal to the regional level. They also want more self-rule in transport, health, labour market and justice areas.

Francophone parties say enough powers have been devolved since the mid-1980s and accuse Dutch-speakers of trying to cut loose Wallonia, troubled by desolate smokestack landscapes and an excessive jobless rate.

It is that tense backdrop that feeds the debate over the contentious voting district.

- AP

Read more on:    belgium
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

 

Inside News24

 
 

'Zuma's legacy will be judged by Nkandla'

The legacy of President Jacob Zuma is contingent on how he deals with the issue of upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, says Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Samsung Galaxy Tab P7500 10.1" Tablet With WiFi & 3G

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 gives you a better experience for...

From R4999.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Self-indulgence may be strong today. You may want to enjoy yourself to the fullest and share it with those that make you feel...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.