NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

Controversy over coalition with former far-right MP’s list in Grimbergen

The leader of the Flemish liberals Gwendolyn Rutten has said that she will take measures to prevent the local branch of her party in the Flemish Brabant municipality of Grimbergen from entering into a coalition with the local list Vernieuwing if any members of Vernieuwing are found to be also members of the far-right party Vlaams Belang.

Vernieuwing is led by the former Vlaams Belang MP Bart Laeremans. Mr Laeremans left the party in 2012. Since then Mr Laeremans has been active as a local councillor for Vernieuwing and in organisations that form part of the non-party political Flemish movement such as VVB and Marnixring.  

At Sunday’s election, Mr Laeremans’ list won 2 extra seats and with 8 seats is now the biggest group on the council. Talks on a coalition were opened with the liberals (6 seats) and the Flemish nationalists (4 seats). With 18 seats such a coalition would have a comfortable majority on the 33-seat council. An agreement in principle had been reached on the formation of a new coalition in which not Mr Laeremans but the liberal Chris Selleslagh would be Mayor.

Speaking on VRT radio he was keen to stress that Vernieuwing “Is independent of all national parties, including Vlaams Belang”.      

Nevertheless, questions were raised as to whether other parties entering into a coalition with Vernieuwing would not breach the so-called “cordon sanitair” under the conditions of which parties don’t enter into coalitions with the Vlaams Belang.

The Christian democrats and the greens claim that this is the case. Meanwhile the leader of the Flemish liberals Gwendolyn Rutten has said that her party is looking into who exactly has been elected for Vernieuwing and “If they are members of Vlaams Belang we will distance ourselves and take statutory measures against those that refuse to do so if necessary”.  

Ms Rutten’s words have been confirmed in a press statement issued by the Flemish Liberal Party on Tuesday morning.

Enough guarantees

The man that will be Mayor if the coalition is allowed to go through Chris Selleslagh doesn’t believe that there will be any issues.

"We are not worried as we have worked according to party guidelines”.

The members of Vernieuwing have all signed a document in which they distance themselves from Vlaams Belang. Mr Selleslagh says that this provides enough guarantees that the liberals can enter a coalition with Vernieuwing without breeching the “cordon santitair”

“Completely autonomous”

Mr Laeremans to VRT Radio 1 that the situation in Grimbergen is completely different than in Ninove (East Flanders) where the local party Forza Ninove led by Guy D’Haeseleer, an MP for the far-right Vlaams Belang, gained 40% of the vote.  

“In September last year we said that we would enter into the elections with complete autonomy and without any financial support from any party”. Mr Laeremans says that this had convinced the other parties that they could work together with Verniewing.   

However, he does admit that this was not the case in 2012.