Flemish politicians in Brussels have driven a wedge between Belgium’s two language groups, further deepening what many see as the country’s worst constitutional crisis for 50 years. French-speaking delegates walked out, as their Dutch-speaking counterparts approved splitting up the Brussels Halle Vilvoorde electoral region – effectively isolating 120 000 francophone voters.
Flemish nationalist politician Jean-Marie Dedecker said: “It’s an historic day for Flanders. We’ve finally imposed Flemish majority by saying the secession of Halle Vilvoorde has to happen. But the government could overturn today’s vote and there will be many appeals. It will probably take another year. But the Flemish lion has roared and that’s what is important.”
On a day of high-drama, francophone politicians also suspended the marathon coalition talks which have still failed to form a government, five months after the election.
Francophone politician Olivier Maingain said: “This marks the first time ever in Belgian politics, regarding a very sensitive issue, that one linguistic community has voted against the other, which is being led and pushed by the Flemish extreme right.”
The acting finance minister and head of the French-speaking liberals, Didier Reynders said: “It’s a very serious vote, because it goes against the principle of respecting minorities and ordinary life where one community isn’t set against the other.”
The vote has heightened media speculation that the 177-year-old nation is heading for a break-up, even though polls show most Belgians want unity. The Prime Minister designate, Yves Leterme is due to meet Belgium’s King Albert later to try to find a way out of the deadlock.