Flemish separatist N-VA party wins big in Belgian general election - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Flemish separatist N-VA party wins big in Belgian general election

Monday, 14 June 2010
Voters in Belgium’s General Election have given what can only be described as stunning win to a Flemish separatist party that wants Dutch and French-speakers to end years of acrimonious linguistic disputes or fail that go their own way and break up Belgium.

N-VA leader Bart De Wever (Photo: deredactie.be)The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) won 27 seats, up 19 from the 2007 elections, to become Belgium's biggest party, and true to tradition, the big winners in Wallonia were the Socialists who won 26 seats, up six. Their leader, Elio di Rupo, also a would-be premier, said, "many Flemish people want the country's institutions reformed. We need to listen to that."

But the main story of the election is the N-VA result which has been seen as a warning to Francophone politicians to negotiate seriously about granting Dutch- and French-speakers more self-rule, or Dutch-speaking Flanders will bolt, but Bart De Wever, the leader of the N-VA does believe that Belgium's "natural evolution" is to split into two separate halves.

Instead, what he proposes is a confederation - a rare constitutional creation consisting of two separate sovereign states that would agree to pool certain aspects of their sovereignty and share things like foreign policy or defence, under an umbrella that will be called "Belgium".

One of those states would be his homeland of Flanders, in the Dutch-speaking north and the other would be Wallonia, in the French-speaking south of the country where the reaction to the result was one of shock with the French-language daily newspaper Le Soir proclaimed that "Flanders has chosen a new king".

For those unfamiliar with the language-situation in the European capital, French and Dutch speakers have been at loggerheads over which should have priority usage in the country. Indeed because there has been no agreement, both are used everywhere, and so the country’s 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million Francophones live very side by side lives.

In fact, just about everything in Belgium (especially in Brussels where English is also dominantly used) from political parties to broadcasters to boy scouts and voting ballots already comes in Dutch and French-speaking versions. Even charities such as the Red Cross and Amnesty International are forced to have separate chapters.

BHV voting districtThe election was called following a long-running dispute over the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde bilingual voting district comprising the capital, Brussels, and 35 Flemish towns bordering it as the Flemish liberal Open VLD party pulled out of the Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s five-party coalition, and threatened to force a parliamentary vote to split the voting district, pictured left.

The high court had ruled it illegal back in 2003 because Dutch is the only official language in Flanders, but over the years, Francophones from Brussels have moved in large numbers to Brussels' leafy Flemish suburbs, where they are accused of refusing to learn Dutch and integrate.

The country has been torn by political infighting between the parties of the Dutch-speaking majority and French-speaking minority over their respective rights in the Brussels electoral district ever since elections in 2007.

Flemish parties, including Mr Leterme’s own Christian democrat CD&V, want to split the three BHV districts along language lines, which would end the deal now whereby French-speakers in the Flemish districts can vote for both Dutch and French-speaking parties, while Dutch-speakers in Wallonia have no such rights.

On Monday, King Albert is expected to start one-on-one meetings with political leaders to see who should form a new government. In 2007, those talks lasted more than six months.

If he becomes premier of Belgium, De Wever will head a coalition government which will force him to tone down his independence talk and negotiate for more regional self rule within Belgium.

Regardless of final coalition, many will hope the solution is found quicker than previously since Belgium assumes the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union in just over two week on July 1st, in what is set to be a very important period for the country and the 27-member bloc.

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