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Homans calls for confederalism in Community Day speech
Liesbeth Homans (N-VA) gave the traditional address of the minister-president on Wednesday, the eve of Flemish Community Day. Homans has been appointed minister-president ad interim until a Flemish government forms, following the May elections.
Flanders’ annual holiday falls on 11 July in recognition of the Battle of the Golden Spurs. It is a tradition for the region’s minister-president to deliver a public speech in Kortrijk, where the 14th-century battle took place.
Homans talked about the history of the Flemish people’s resistance to foreign rule and the struggle to speak their own language. She briefly described a 20th-century history that saw gradual changes to politics and governmental systems – once only carried out in French – to include Dutch-language candidates and communications.
“The democratisation of the electoral system increased voter turnout,” she said. “More citizens had a voice – meaning, more Flemings had a voice.”
But their voice differed from that of their French-speaking counterparts, she emphasised. “The difference in the electoral choices between the north and the south, already a century old, manifested itself again powerfully on 26 May. In so extreme a way, in fact, that it appears to be impossible to form a federal government majority made up of both regions.”
The minister-president was referring to the outcome of the regional and federal elections in May, in which more than 40% of all votes cast in Flanders went to either N-VA or the far-right Vlaams Belang. At the federal level, the figure was nearly 48%.
The opposite was true for Wallonia, where most of the votes went to moderate and left-wing parties. The only option now, Homans concluded, was to scrap the current federal structure for a more confederal one.
While Belgium’s regional governments already have a great deal of power, there is also much overlap. There are four environment ministers, for instance – one for each region as well as at the federal level.
“Further adapting our state structure is not only desirable but necessary,” said Homans. “This requires a reform wherein the Flemish and the French speakers decide in which policy areas they still want to co-operate. The rest must be handed over to the regions, so that the Flemish and French speakers can make their own policy choices.”
Homans also touched on the migration situation, the subject that prompted her party to walk out of the federal ruling coalition late last year. “In neighbourhoods, municipalities and cities, quality of life can be put under pressure and social cohesion put to the test in the presence of many people with views and behaviours that differ from those of the Flemish people who have always lived there,” she said. “The successful integration of people with a migration background in our Flemish society is in the interest of everyone, of the entire society.”
Homans has been in charge of integration and housing policy since the last Flemish government was formed in 2014. “We do not expect newcomers who want to settle in Flanders to completely discard their own history. The essence, however is not where someone comes from or their history. The essence is in the shared future in Flanders.”
Ceremony in the capital
Some 11,000 people turned up in Brussels for Brussel Danst, a series of events staged to celebrate Flemish Community Day. The government also held its annual Community Day event in Brussels’ city hall in the Grote Markt.
TV journalist Lisbeth Imbo acted as MC for the ceremony, opening it in four languages, including a welcome to all the diplomats and other expats in the crowd. “And on this joyful day, I would also like to welcome all our diplomats and ambassadors,” she said. “Brussels is not only the capital of this small but precious nation, it is also the capital of Europe and home to many expats. You not only enrich this community but the whole of our country.”
During the 11 July ceremony, 16 citizens were awarded the Flemish Community Honours for their contributions to society. Brussels-City mayor Philip Close addressed the crowd, as did Kris Van Dijck, who had been named the Flemish parliament speaker ad interim, following the recent retirement of N-VA party colleague Jan Peumans.
Things took an unexpected turn in the ceremony when news began to trickle in during Van Dijck’s speech that he was suspected of committing social fraud by guaranteeing a benefits payment to a prostitute with whom he had a relationship. P Magazine broke the story, the facts of which allegedly occurred in 2014.
The situation was further complicated by controversy surrounding Van Dijck’s drunk driving violation last week. Following an accident, he was found to have an alcohol level of 1.4 per mille, nearly three times the legal level.
Van Dijck resigned from his post as speaker of the parliament before leaving city hall.
Photo: Kurt Desplenter/BELGA