Belgian politicians begin ‘battle of Brussels’

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In the absence of a solution to reform the Belgian state and set up a new government, French-speaking politicians have apparently turned to plan B: laying the ground for a future "federation" grouping together Wallonia and Brussels. Flemish nationalists immediately denounced the "provocation".

The French-speaking Belgian community will adopt the name "Federation Wallonia-Brussels," it emerged yesterday after a debate in the Walloon parliament in Namur.

The political declaration, which has not been enacted at federal level, was announced yesterday (4 April) by Rudy Demotte, premier of the Wallonia region and representatives of Belgium's four biggest French-speaking parties – the Socialists (PS), the liberals (MR), the centre-right (cdH) and the Greens (Ecolo).

"In this framework, the four French-speaking parties state loud and clear that for them, the Brussels-Capital Region would never be transferable to another entity," Demotte stated.

Demotte, who is also president of the French-speaking community, also made clear that the decision, which had been looming from some time, was a bid to counter efforts by Kris Peeters, premier of Flanders, to establish lower status for Brussels than other regions.

The Belgian federal state comprises three regions: the Flemish Region in the north, the Walloon Region in the south and the Brussels-Capital region in the centre, which is encircled by Flemish territory.

Brussels, however, is largely a French-speaking city and the dispute over reform of the Belgian state has centred on the status of the region, which is now officially bilingual but effectively managed by the two other large regions.

The French community of Wallonia-Brussels already exists. But a 'Federation Wallonia-Brussels' would mean Wallonia refusing to accept Brussels being co-managed by Flanders, writes an editorialist at RTBF, a French-speaking public TV station.

Flemish reaction contradictory

The reaction of the Flemish appears to be contradictory. Flanders premier Peeters, who hails from the centre-right CD&V, said that changing the name from "community" to "federation" was something that the parliament of the French-speaking community was entitled to do.

But Ben Weyts, a parliamentarian from the separatist N-VA, called the plan a "provocation" and warned that his political party would not "fall into the trap".

Weyts said such tactics appeared "strange" if the French-speaking parties were truly seeking to seat all political players around the negotiating table to get the country out of its impasse.

A few days ago, Olivier Maingain, the best-known French-speaking nationalist, who is also a politician from the liberal MR party, disclosed plans for what he called "the common future of Wallonia and Brussels".

According to the plan, a common parliament would be established between the two entities, with a government of the new federation consisting of 12 ministers: eight Walloons, two from Brussels, one German speaker and one Dutch speaker without the right of veto.

The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a nationalist party, secured a sweeping victory in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium in national elections held on 13 June 2010, paving the way for more powers to be delegated to the regions in the country that hosts the EU institutions.

Flemish nationalist gains were matched by a large victory for the socialists in French-speaking Wallonia, with both parties expected to spearhead government coalition talks.

The early elections were triggered after Flemish liberal party Open-VLD decided to leave the government over a dispute between French- and Dutch-speaking parties regarding electoral boundaries surrounding the capital, Brussels.

Belgian King Albert II told Prime Minister Yves Leterme to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government was formed.

In spite of this major political crisis, Belgium rather successfully completed its term as rotating EU presidency for the second half of 2010.

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