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Belgian crisis centres on linguistic divide

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Belgian crisis centres on linguistic divide


Yves Leterme was sworn in as Belgian Prime Minister in March, nine months after his Flemish Christian Democrats had coasted to an election victory.

Forming a government would be the first step towards breaking the deadlock, it was hoped.

Flemish and French-speaking politicians had agreed on a mini-reform of the state by putting off the most problematic issues until mid-July.

One of these prickly topics was what to do with the bilingual electoral district around the capital, Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, known as BHV.

Around 120,000 Francophones live in this enclave of Flanders. The Flemish want to split the district so that the French-speakers of Halle-Vilvoorde would have to respect Flemish institutions and vote only for Flemish parties.

In May the Flemish used their majority in the national parliament to put splitting the district onto the political agenda.

However the French-speakers used stalling tactics to delay any such debate, evoking a constitutional clause that won them four months.

But the complex question of BHV is far from the only bone of contention.

Flemings want greater regional control over areas such as health, justice, tax and social security.

But the Francophones in Wallonia, where unemployment is higher, and economic growth lower, fear the Flemish will finish by breaking up the country.

One Walloon socialist has said that some Flemish members of parliament want to divide the country, while others have an even more malicious and cynical wish: to keep Belgium together but only in order to exploit it to benefit Flanders.

“It is high time,” she said, “that this ended.

The dispute between the two linguistic communities is certainly nothing new in Belgian politics but many commentators are saying the gulf between the two communities has never been wider.

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