"Dominant Flemish position in Belgian army"

According to Luc Gennart, the commander of the airforce base in Florennes (photo), there is an unequal balance between senior Dutch- and French-speaking officers in the Belgian army. Defence Minister Pieter De Crem admits that there is a problem, but blames poor language skills among French-speaking candidates.

"All the important decisions in the Belgian army are taken by the Flemings", Luc Gennart told the French-speaking public broadcaster RTBF yesterday. He added that top-ranking French-speaking officers are sent abroad or to military schools. Luc Gennart has applied for early retirement.

His declarations have transferred the present political tension between Francophones and Flemish negotiators to the Belgian army, which had been left out of the political bickering so far.

The office of Defence Minister Pieter De Crem (Flemish Christian democrat, small photo) admits that there is a problem, but blames poor language skills among French-speaking candidates applying for senior positions.

"Mr Gennart is referring to the appointment of generals and admirals", Kurt Verwilligen, the spokesman for Mr De Crem, says. "These procedures were outlined by law in 1959. In order to be appointed, candidates must have a perfect knowledge of both French and Dutch, in order to able to give orders in both languages."

"We apply objective criteria, but we are seeing that there is a serious shortage of French-speaking candidates mastering both languages. That is why we are encouraging French-speaking officers to take part in language exams more often."