Jean-Claude Juncker told to apologise after claims coastal Belgium 'less tolerant of French'

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By Rachael Kennedy
Jean-Claude Juncker told to apologise after claims coastal Belgium 'less tolerant of French'
Copyright  REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker has sparked demands for an apology in Belgium after claims he made to local media about observing a decrease in linguistic tolerance in towns on the country's coastline.

The outgoing European Commission president told L'Echo last week that he speaks German in the coastal areas of Belgium — which are majority Flemish (Dutch)-speaking areas — because of an observed declining tolerance toward French speakers.

Recalling a time thirty years earlier, he said: "I was at the bakers, the butchers - I would place my orders in French.

"Today we do not accept it anymore, so I speak German - they accept Germans, plus French speakers."

He added: "Belgium could be the model of successful cohabitation, but unfortunately it is not, which makes me sad."

The 64-year-old was then asked to clarify if he believed this extended to a Europe-wide issue, but he responded that he believed it was "pure Belgian".

He added that it was a "regional problem" due areas such as Flanders that "thinks of itself and behaves like a nation".

This contributes to Belgium not being proud of itself as an entire country, he continued, adding: "But I am proud of Belgium. Belgium because it is a beautiful country, with talented, ingenious people."

But a number of regional powers in Belgium have since hit back at the comments, demanding an apology from the Luxembourg politician.

Bart Tommelein, the mayor of beach city Ostend, commented on the "strangeness of the world" following the interview.

He added: "Claiming that the coast is not hospitable and that he would be forced to speak German here.

"Everyone is welcome here, regardless of the language they are trying to speak."

Meanwhile, Flemish politician Jean-Marie Dedecker said the comments were "not appropriate" for the EU Commission president to make.

He went on to say he could go to Luxembourg "to order half a kilo of farmer's pie in Dutch", and "see how they react there".

In an email to Euronews, Juncker's spokeswoman Mina Andreeva stood by the Commission president's comments.

She said: "President Juncker simply stated his observations. He values very much Europe's linguistic diversity and encourages everyone to uphold it and contribute to it."