De Wever and Crevits in “Chancellors debate”

With the incumbent Geert Bourgeois (nationalist) set to step down after the election the question on everyone’s lips is who will become the Prime Minister in the next Flemish Government. Thus far only the Christian democrats and the nationalists have put forward candidates in the form of the current Flemish Education Minister Hilde Crevits (Christian democrat) and the Mayor of Antwerp Bart De Wever (nationalist). On Sunday morning the two went head to head for the first time in a so-called “chancellors’ debate” on VRT television’s Sunday morning topical debate programme ‘De zevende dag’.          

The tone of the debate was polite even amical, save a few hard words when the two locked horns on education.   

"Mr De Wever is not someone that gives out cuddles and now I feel a rather like I’m being cuddled”, Ms Crevits said after Mr De Wever’s friendly words about her candidatures for the post of Flemish Prime Minister.   

"We have always sat together in the government and have always worked well together. I have never clashed with Hilde, neither about politics or at a personal level”, Mr De Wever said.  

Nevertheless, Mr De Wever doesn’t appear to take Ms Crevits’ candidature seriously. He pointed out that in Flanders the Prime Minister comes from the largest party in the coalition and that as things stand this is still the nationalists.  

"The Prime Minister will only be a Christian democrat if the socialists and greens form part of the Flemish Government coalition”.  

Mr De Wever believe that the formation of a new Flemish government will happen in isolation. In could well be the case that in Brussels and Wallonia the socialists and greens could be the parties charged with forming new regional coalition government. During the interview he made it clear that his party would not enter into a coalition in which both the socialists and the green were represented.  

Education, an area of policy for which Ms Crevits currently has ministerial responsibility was always going to be a contentious issue in the debate. Not least because the nationalist want to shelve the online enrolment system brought in by Ms Crevits (and with the agreement of the nationalist minister in the Flemish government). Ms Crevits expressed her disappointment at the stance now taken by the nationalists.

However, despite what was said at Saturday’s nationalist party congress, Mr De Wever that the decision to introduce the enrolment system was a compromise and that his party will ensure that it is implemented.   

"But we would like to get rid of it as soon as there is enough capacity in schools”.

Ms Crevits responded that she agreed that increased capacity is needed.

“I have 160 million euro ready to invest in the City of Antwerp. 16,000 extra places need to be created there and so far just 8,000 have been. Just do it then”, she told the Mayor of Antwerp.  

"If there are still too many candidates for a particular school then there are two choices. Either first come, first served or you offer everyone an equal chance. I am in favour of the second option. I don’t want the woman that is on her own with her children and has to work doesn’t have the chance to queue up at the school gates”, the Education Minister added.  

With regard to the so-called “language bath years” in which children from non-Dutch speaking backgrounds are given extra language coaching in order to enable to start primary school without a linguistic handicap, Ms Crevits put the ball back into Mr De Wever’s court.  

"Antwerp has its own city education system for which it is responsible. There is nothing to prevent the City of Antwerp from introducing a language bath system in its schools”.

Mr De Wever reacted with some irritation to Ms Crevits’ comments.  

There was also discord with regard to Mr De Wever’s attitude to the education authorities, which he believes have too much power. Ms Crevits doesn’t agree. “The way in which they manage the schools isn’t bad. We have seen what happened in The Netherlands when they abolished everything. They just started buying packs from the private sectors and they was no way of ensuring quality control”.     

Ms Crevits added that as Education Minister she had the power to reprimand schools that weren’t performing.

At the end of the debate Ms Crevits expressed a wish that “strong Flemish and federal governments can be formed” very quickly after the elections on 26 May.  

Ms Crevits added that her party that her party had no pre-electoral accords with other parties .

Meanwhile, Bart De Wever said that after the election he would “call anyone that wants to pick up” in order to ensure a new Flemish coalition can be formed.