December 11, 2008
Regarding your article of Wednesday 3 December 2008 entitled ‘Council of Europe slams Belgium over linguistic feud‘:
Where the article mentions “persistent linguistic disputes between Flemish and French-speaking communities in the Brussels area,” it mixes up two kinds of qualifications. The communities in the – admittedly complicated – Belgian structure are officially qualified as Dutch, French and German. “Flemish” refers to one of the three Belgian regions; the others being the Walloon and the Brussels-capital region respectively. As a consequence, the language that should have been used in the electoral convocations mentioned is Dutch, not Flemish. And Dutch being one of the more significant languages of the European Community in terms of its number of speakers, this does shed a different light on the whole situation.
Kraainem, Linkebeek and Wezembeek-Oppem are not districts, as falsely stated, but towns in their own right. These towns are part of the Flemish region and as such legally Dutch-speaking. This entails that it was indeed illegal for the mayors-elect to send the electoral convocations in French, and not just claimed to be illegal by the Flemish government, as your article states. By the same token the assertion by Mr. Thiéry – as quoted in your article – that “there is no legally binding document obliges mayors in communes in Brussels periphery to send electoral convocations in Flemish” (sic) is utterly flawed (leaving apart the fact that Flemish should be substituted by Dutch); there are piles of “legally-binding documents” to this effect.
Moreover, stating that the three towns in question “have French-speaking majorities” disregards the fact that these majorities could only develop because French-speaking immigrants have consistently disregarded the Flemish nature of their new habitat, abusing the ‘facilities’ legislation that was intended to offer them time to accommodate themselves in a new linguistic environment.
Where you quote French Congress member Jean-Louis Testud as saying that “behind this masquerade hides a wish of separation of a region that wants to keep its wealth,” the truth is that certain francophone elements have been making territorial claims on the Flemish towns that inconveniently separate the Walloon region from Brussels.
It is sad enough that the foreign press has always presented a lopsided image of the intricate Belgian linguistic situation. Although Walloons have no reputation for multilingualism, the fact that their mother tongue happens to be French has always made their media readily accessible for the rest of the world, so that their biased accounts of the Belgian situation spread without ever being counterbalanced by reports – in Dutch – in the Flemish media.
Far worse is that members of the Council of Europe apparently feel no inhibitions at all about passing judgment in a situation they do not even begin to understand. They even saw fit to completely disregard the commonsense request by the Flemish representative Fons Borginon to at least wait for the advice of the Belgian Constitutional Court in the matter. And as for the Council’s ‘rapporteurs’, during their stay in Belgium they couldn’t even be bothered to inform themselves properly on the intricacies of the country’s linguistic legislation, but simply took sides with the self-proclaimed victims of the situation that had arisen.
I have always been a firm advocate of European unification, but at this moment I find it extremely hard to muster any respect at all for a European institution that fails to properly inform itself on a matter before proclaiming resolutions and recommendations with such a potentially far-reaching impact on the functioning of one of the European Union’s oldest and most committed member states.
Glabbeek, Belgium (Flanders)Author : Letters to the EurActiv editor