The controversy over the Brussels-Hal-Vilvoorde constituency goes to the very heart of Belgium’s inter-communal tensions which are never far from the surface. Some observers believe any further deepening of the divisions between French and Flemish speakers could push the country further towards a split. A francophone member of the federal parliament, Francois Xavier du Donnea says a compromise is essential:
“We believe that the existence of this district is the guarantee, on the one hand, of a federal Belgian state with political links and political solidarity. But on the other hand we believe we can’t change the rules of the game concerning the rights of French speakers in the periphery of Brussels.”
If Francophones lose the right to vote for representatives of their language it would mean the bilingual area surrounding Brussels would be dominated by Flemish-speaking politicians after federal elections. It would mean that the French-speaking minority would only be able to vote for Flemish parties and candidates. Changing the voting rights would effectively lead to the creation of two single monolingual regions – Flanders and Wallonia.
For some, like Flemish mayor Eddie de Block, fewer divisions would be better for the country: “Belgium must exist with two communities. Despite some conflicting situations we need each other. We are pretty small, and to separate the country into two, three or even four parts wouldn’t be good for any of the citizens.”
At the heart of this dispute is Brussels. The capital is one of the three regions, which make up the federal state. Some see the linguistic wrangling as a race for control of the city starting with its surrounding areas. For the moment a crisis in government has been averted but it seems certain to resurface again.