“After June 2024, the Brussels Region does not need a new Minister for Multilingualism, but it does need a Minister for Dutch,” writes Jan Wostyn (Vista).
Last month, Groen and Ecolo jointly presented their plans for state reform. The fact that progressive parties themselves come up with proposals is in itself a positive thing, because it is all too often claimed that state reform is not a “real problem” of “the people”, while many policy proposals depend on the state structure. The Groen and Ecolo proposals contain certain valuable elements, but are also quite disturbing when it comes to Brussels. Other parties have also made numerous proposals about government formation because everyone feels that it could become a very long process after June 9, 2024.
Role of the King
The proposal to no longer allow the King to play a role in the formation appears to be a step in the right direction. In the Netherlands, government formation was already removed from the King in 2012 and this has not had any catastrophic consequences to date. In any case, in Belgium it can no longer be claimed that the King ensures a fast and smooth formation, as the last 4 formations are among the longest 5 ever. Let’s be honest: no one wants the circus with party chairmen who are allowed to have an audience with the King one by one after June 9 and then send out an informant or scout who will do the same. With that alone we could easily lose a month.
Removing the role of the King in the formation is not difficult, because it is not described anywhere in the Constitution. In fact, it is simply enough that the party leaders no longer visit the monarch. Since a federal government must always include parties from the 2 federal language groups, it seems more logical to simply leave the initiative to the largest formation on each side of the language border. If they do not make any progress after 2 weeks, the numbers 2 on each side can also be given a chance, until a workable formation is possible. We really don’t need the King for that. If that does not work, parliament can simply call new elections, as Groen and Ecolo also propose.
Reflection coalition instead of hierarchy of norms
Another proposal from Groen/Ecolo is that the federal level would act as an “arbitrator” in any conflicts between the different levels. However, this role for the federal level is very problematic when the federal government is not based on a double majority, as has been the case over the last 16 years. This implies that democratic decisions for which there is a Flemish majority at Flemish level, for example, can be undone by a federal government without a Flemish majority.
In that sense, a hierarchy of norms is only acceptable if federal work is done with a reflection coalition of the two major communities, a proposal that is also supported by CD&V. This way, any differences in vision will in any case be brought to the table of the federal government, but each community will have the certainty that its own democracy will be respected. For parties that attach great importance to basic democracy, such as Groen/Ecolo, it is surprising that they attach so little importance to democracy at community level.
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Plans for Brussels
Where Groen and Ecolo’s proposals arouse the most suspicion are the plans around Brussels. Fortunately, education and culture remain community competences and Groen does not go along with the wish of some to make education a completely Brussels matter. Yet they do take that step for all other community powers, but with “strong guarantees” for the Dutch speakers in Brussels.
What exactly those guarantees might be, I asked the two co-chairmen of Groen twice on X, the former Twitter, but unfortunately without an answer. The question is certainly not a detail. What are “strong guarantees” worth if even the law is not complied with? Even 35 years after the establishment of the Brussels-Capital Region, it appears that the promised bilingualism is often not achieved among municipalities, OCMWs, hospitals and police, even though this is required by law. So, if even the law doesn’t prove to be a “strong guarantee”, what is?
Groen may like to show off his excellent and friendly relationship with the sister party Ecolo, but apparently this only works because the difficult questions are neatly avoided. During the corona crisis, Elke Van den Brandt, although also responsible for health, simply had her authority taken over by Alain Maron, who is apparently only moderately aware of the fact that Brussels is a bilingual region where Dutch speakers also live.
Also in welfare files, it is always forgotten that the Flemish community is also active in this area in Brussels. The fact that the Brussels OCMWs, for example, do not even remotely succeed in being bilingual, prompted Fahim De Leener, a Dutch-speaking politician from Vooruit, to propose a 20ste to establish a fully Dutch-speaking OCMW. Anyone who gets into trouble as a Dutch speaker in Brussels must apparently first take a French course if he/she still wants to be helped. And let’s face it: the people who have to rely on the OCMW are usually not as multilingual as Sven Gatz would like. Problems in so-called bilingual hospitals also remain rife.
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A turnaround is necessary after 2024
Consequently, there can be no question of additional powers for the Brussels Region until the existing commitments and laws are finally complied with. It doesn’t have to be that difficult. Give all personnel under the age of 45 who are legally required to be functionally bilingual a transition period of 2 years to reach B1 level. This requirement may possibly be waived for staff over 45, as they are also partly victims of a failing French-language education system that fails to deliver functionally trilingual profiles, as is the case in Dutch-language education.
After June 2024, the Brussels Region clearly does not need a new Minister for Multilingualism, but it does need a Minister for Dutch. Only when all language laws in Brussels are complied with can we talk about additional powers for the Brussels Region. The only “strong guarantee” that can make any impression is that the laws are actually complied with.