Bart De Wever, the leader of the governing Flemish nationalist party, has made a series of remarks about racism in recent days. Mr De Wever, who doubles as the Mayor of Antwerp, said that racism was a 'relative' problem and the result of negative perceptions and experiences. He continued: "It is a consequence, not the cause of our problems" adding that too often racism is invoked as an excuse for personal failure.
Mr De Wever's pronouncements were vehemently attacked by the opposition socialists and greens in the Flemish Parliament, but his Flemish coalition partners, the Christian democrats and the liberals also rounded on the leader of Belgium's largest party.
Christian democrat floor leader Koen Van den Heuvel: "When the burgomaster of Antwerp, the largest and most diverse city in Flanders, feels the urge to stigmatise an entire population group, then you are bound to respond." Mr Van den Heuvel warned against lumping radicalisation, racism and discrimination on the same heap: "There can never be an alibi for racism or discrimination."
Liberal floor leader Bart Somers: "Politicians should clearly take the side of the victim. Group-thinking in a society is detrimental. It's not origins that count, but the future. Politicians should consider this is a debate about people. This has not happened sufficiently in recent days."
Flemish liberal lawmaker Mercedes Van Volcem made one of the most outspoken comments and tweeted: "Bart De Wever is the leader of the new Vlaams Belang."