Belgium’s French-speaking politicians have managed to delay a showdown with their Dutch-speaking colleagues that threatens to split the country in two.
Prime Minister Yves Leterme has 120 days to bridge the linguistic divide after francophones pushed back a vote on electoral reform.
“It’s a painful time for the country and for relations between its great communities. But we’ll have to see in the coming days how we can overcome this problem and how we’re going to get everyone who’s ready to work for a solution back to the negotiating table.”
In the early hours of Friday morning Dutch-speaking members of parliament used their majority to get the reforms onto the political agenda.
The legislation seeks to strip around one hundred thousand French-speakers of the right to vote for francophone parties in the Brussels area.
Elio di Rupo, leader of the Francophone socialists asked law-makers:
“Do you want to continue living together? I hope so, but if not then be honest enough to say what you like.”
Between the Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia lies Belgium’s bilingual region of Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde, or BHV.
The Flemings want to split this region and have the numerical superiority in parliament to do so.
The row is part of a wider dispute between Dutch-speaking Belgians, who want greater autonomy, and francophones who fear this would spell doom for Belgium.