Councillor elected on far-right list helps nationalists and Christian democrats form a majority

A candidate that was elected as a district councillor for the far-right Vlaams Belang at the local elections in October has now chosen to sit as an independent and will support the nationalist/Christian democrat coalition in the Berendrecht-Zandvliet-Lillo district of Antwerp. The national leadership of the Flemish nationalists and Flemish Christian democrats are looking into whether this is a breach of the so-called “cordon sanitair”, an agreement that prevents parties of the left, centre and centre-right from forming coalition with far-right parties. 

The formation of a new coalition in the Antwerp district of Berendrecht-Zandvliet-Lillo has been a long drawn out affair. Initially the Flemish nationalists that have 6 of the 15 seats had been in talks with the centre-left PRO2040 list that has 4 seats.

The nationalists then dumped PRO2040 in favour of the Christian democrats. However, as they have just 1 seat a nationalist/Christian democrat coalition would be 1 seat short of a majority on the district council. Now An Van Uffelen that was one of 4 councillors elected on the far-right Vlaams Belang list has now decided to sit as an independent and to support the nationalist/Christian democrat coalition. With her support the coalition has a majority of 1 (8 seats out of 15). Although Ms Van Uffelen won’t become as District Alderman, she will be present at meetings of the district cabinet.

The situation in Berendrecht-Zandvliet-Lillo has re-opened the discussion surrounding the “cordon sanitair”.

Although Ms Van Uffelen wrote in a text message to her former party colleagues that her decision to sit as an independent was her own and in the interest of the district, she also wrote that “In my heart I remain Vlaams Belang”.  

Meanwhile, the far-right party’s figurehead Filip Dewinter is delighted with the turn of events.

“What fails elsewhere, can succeed in Antwerp. Keeping the socialists out of office thanks to the support of an independent Vlaams Belang member”, Mr Dewinter tweeted.

The Flemish nationalists and the Flemish Christian democrats national leadership has said that they are investigating the situation, but won’t comment for the time being. 

Remember Vilvoorde and Kortrijk?

The affair is reminiscent of events in the Flemish Brabant town of Vilvoorde in 2000 when the late Jean-Luc Dehaene (Christian democrat) tried to become Mayor by forming an a coalition that was to be supported by Rita Van Dam, a councillor that had been elected as a candidate for the far-right Vlaams Blok.

However, the deal didn’t go through and Mr Dehaene became Mayor thanks to the support of two councillors from the radical Francophile party FDF.

Elswhere, there was commotion in the West Flemish city of Kortrijk in 2015 when two former Vlaams Belang councillors helped prop up the liberal, nationalist, socialist coalition there.