The Belgian Senate passed a bill on the splitting of the judicial area BHV yesterday.
The ruling coalition and the greens voted in favour, with the Flemish nationalists of N-VA and far-right Vlaams Belang voting against. They argue that Flanders made too many concessions in order to reach a deal with the Francophones. The discussion was about the number of Francophone magistrates among other things.
However, the eyecatcher of the whole process is the splitting of the constituency BHV. This happened in the Chamber of Representatives in the late afternoon, and marks the end of decades of political bickering.
What will change?
An accord on the issue was reached during the government coalition talks last year. The Flemish coalition parties (liberals, Christian democrats and socialists) have received heavy criticism by the Flemish nationalists for making too many concessions to the Francophones in the deal.
However, the coalition partners retorted that with the N-VA, nothing would have happened as a compromise with the Francophones would simply have not been possible. They argue that at least they reached a deal, allowing the country to move on after the breaking the political deadlock.
Under the accord, it will no longer be possible for Francophone voters living in the Flemish municipalities in the Halle-Vilvoorde area around Brussels to vote for candidates in Brussels. In the past, this led to Francophone voters supporting Francophone candidates in the capital. However, an exception has been made for the six Flemish municipalities with language facilities, where the old system will still apply. This is the case Drogenbos, Linkebeek, Wemmel, Rode, Kraainem and Wezenbeek.
"The N-VA is like a crocodile"
Yesterday, the Chamber started the debates about the constituency BHV. The N-VA targeted the Flemish ruling coalition partners in particular.
Ben Weyts of N-VA told parliament that "normally, we would need just one bill to split the constituency. Here in front me, I have 16. This means that we have 15 bills about the price Flanders has to pay." He continued by saying that the Francophones are receiving a number of "speciallekes" (exceptions created especially for the occasion) which will become part of the constitution. He concluded that "it would have been better if the Flemish parties hadn't done anything."
The Flemish liberal floor leader Patrick De Wael answered that nothing would have been possible with the N-VA at the table. "You are making compromises in the Flemish government, but apparently this is impossible on a federal level. You suggest it would have been a "walk-over", that we would have steamrolled the Francophones. Who would believe that?"
Michel Doomst of the Christian democrats compared the N-VA to a crocodile. "A very big mouth, but too short legs to reach any result." Experts fear that the whole issue will continue to cause tensions between the Flemish parties even when BHV will have been split, as the deal also includes the money transfers from Flanders to Wallonia.
"From desperation to a dynamic country"
It was PM Elio Di Rupo (Francophone socialist) who had the final say yesterday evening. He congratulated the Flemings as one of their biggest demands will be met.
"One year ago, desperation ruled the country. Today, we have got things moving again."
The PM pointed to the fact that there is a Flemish majority for the bill, as the Christian democrats, socialists and liberals are receiving the support of the greens who are on the opposition benches. He asked the N-VA show some sense of reconciliation.