Big Debate 09, one week before the polls

One week before the regional and European elections on 7 June the main leaders of the eight biggest parties in Flanders were in the limelight. For one and a half hours VRT journalists fired off questions. The parties were confronted with the each other on a series of issues. The debate was organised and televised by the VRT.
Flemish Prime Minister Kris Peeters (Christian democrat CD&V) was set opposite Flemish Budget Minister Dirk Van Mechelen (Flemish liberal Open VLD) who also aspires to take over the job of Flemish Prime Minister. (Photo above)

Disengage funds for the job bonus

Both men feel that they have accomplished a lot in the Flemish government and have done a good job. They both want a strong Flemish government that can go to work decisively.

Both say they would prefer to work with a small coalition.

The ideas and opinions of their respective parties part ways when it comes to the priorities of the next Flemish government.

The CD&V of PM Peeters wants a regionalisation of family allocations, an end to waiting lists in the social sector and an innovative economy. Open VLD demands an increase in the job bonus. The job bonus was implemented for the first time this year. The bonus is for all working inhabitants of Flanders and is meant to encourage people to stay in a job.

Dirk Van Mechelen has even made a breaking point of this issue for his participation in the next government.

"Unilateral declaration of independence for Flanders: extremely unfeasible"

Another debate was between the Flemish Minister of Education, Frank Vandenbroucke (socialist SP.A), and Filip De Winter (group leader for the far right Vlaams Belang in the Flemish parliament).

After attempts to push ahead on more state reforms failed, the Flemish socialist party SP.A wants to capitalise on the competencies that the regions already have. Frank Vandenbroucke  also wants movement on institutional reform but thinks that a unilateral declaration of independence such as Vlaams Belang wants is "extremely unfeasible".

Should we work less or should we work more?

Mieke Vogels of the Flemish greens (Groen!), the only woman politician in the debate, has a clear idea on this issue. She defends the idea of part-time work to make it easier to combine work with family. "We need more time to take care of our children, the sick, our parents," says Mieke Vogels.

Groen! is diametrically opposed here to Open VLD. According to Mieke Vogels, "We should work to live, not live to work."

"SP.A does not need SLP to lose"

The left side of the political spectrum is going to the polls in a very divided battle array, much to the dismay of Frank Vandenbroucke, who keeps leaning over backwards to prove that the two parties do not differ all that much and could work together.

SLP (Social Liberale Partij- what remains of the now defunct progressive regionalists party VLPro) and SP.A once were cartel partners.

For Geert Lambert, chairman of the SLP, the differences between the 2 parties have become too important for them to form a cartel again.

According to Mr Vandenbroucke the fragmentation on the left has been disastrous for SP.A. Geert Lambert does not agree: "The SP.A does not need the SLP to lose the elections."

No right wing coalition after 7 June

Is a right wing majority possible with Vlaams Belang? Jean-Marie Dedecker (right wing liberal party LDD) has always said that he is against the principle of a 'cordon sanitair' (exclusion of a party). In the VRT Big Debate 09 he finally admitted that even his party would not work together with Vlaams Belang.

"I have never excluded anyone in my life. But if we would go with Vlaams Belang, no one else would, and we would be excluding ourselves."