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Flemish minister-president 'cannot imagine EU without UK'

20:24 03/02/2019

Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois (N-VA) made an impassioned plea to the UK to stay in the European Union during an address to the Diplomatic Corps. While his speech included many topics relevant to ambassadors and diplomats from around Europe and the world, his words on Brexit were an emotional highlight of the reception.

“When I think of the UK, I think of our long-standing ties of friendship,” said Bourgeois, speaking English to the international crowd, “our good-neighbourly relations, the co-operation between our universities and scientific institutions, the Erasmus exchanges between our two countries.”

He went on to recognise “the many tens of thousands British soldiers who perished in Flanders Fields, whilst fighting tooth and nail to liberate our population. In Flanders Fields, I have visited beautifully kept cemeteries commemorating and honouring the memory of these brave British troops. These valiant young men, only in their 20s and 30s, from Kent, Belfast, Wales or Edinburgh, fought for the fundamental freedoms, peace and democracy, that we cherish today as part of the human values and legal community that is also the EU.”

He went on to say that he would always be grateful to the UK for what they did for Flanders 100 years ago. “With this in mind, I simply cannot imagine that we will no longer be sitting around the same table as part of our European Union.”

Bourgeois addressed the referendum as well, noting that he did not blame the population for the way it voted. “I am willing to show a great deal of understanding for their reasons, including those which I believe to be unjustified. The EU is home to quite a few countries that share more or less the same concerns that many British citizens have. Let us have a real debate on these issues. But let this be a debate held as part of a reformed EU.”

Any future debates could in fact include Bourgeois personally: N-VA president, Bart De Wever, announced a few weeks ago that, should his party sweep the regional elections in May, he was prepared to become minister-president and to see Bourgeois take on leadership at the European level.

“The EU can only gain by a healthy democratic debate in which all views, including the British views, are addressed in depth and in full,” he continued. “As such, I hereby emphatically launch an especially passionate plea to my fellow British politicians not to leave the EU. Cherish our historical and deep-rooted ties of friendship, continue to reap the full benefit of the Union’s economies of scale, stay and remain as one of the major tenors of the EU and, consequently, around the world.”

Bourgeois also proposed several measures to be taken as Brexit gets closer, including an openness of the EU to extend Article 50 should the UK request this, EU aid for companies affected by Brexit and adjustment mechanisms in the Multiannual Financial Framework to support the regions and businesses most affected.

Other topics included in the address to the diplomatic corps were the opening of a new General Representation in Rome next month, new Flanders Investment & Trade offices in Nigeria and Malaysia later this year, the awaited ruling on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) and EU Bilateral Investment Treaties, which he believes need to be eliminated.

Photo: Geert Bourgeois addresses international ambassadors and diplomats in Brussels on Thursday ©FDFA

Written by Flanders Today