Flemish regional authorities have blocked three French-speaking mayors from taking up public office since they were elected in January 2007 in the Brussels suburbs of Linkebeek, Wezembeek-Oppem and Kraainem. Marino Keulen, the Flemish Interior Minister responsible for the ban, remained defiant and announced he will stick by his decision to outlaw the elected mayors."Flanders has not been convicted. Only a court can impose a conviction," he said. "I would have preferred a different decision, because this will hit the international headlines, but the real impact is nil." Mr Keulen insisted that the three mayors did not respect Flemish linguistic legislation that prohibits French election literature even though the suburbs they represent, while geographically in Dutch-speaking Flanders, are mainly inhabited by French speakers. The COE [Council of Europe] has demanded that the mayors be immediately appointed and called for a review of Belgium's linguistic laws that have been used by Flemish nationalists to ban the use of the French language in municipalities around Brussels, home to the EU. Damien Thiéry, the banned mayor elect for Linkebeek, told human rights watchdogs in Strasbourg that a legal appeal in Belgium could take five years. "You are our last recourse. Without you the democracy will die out in our towns," he said. The COE's intervention has stepped up the long-running row between Belgium's two main communities, the richer Dutch-speaking northern region of Flanders and the poorer francophone Wallonia region in the south. Flanders, where 60 per cent of Belgium's 10.5 million people live, has sought more regional powers leading to a political impasse that means Belgium has been without government since inconclusive elections in June 2007.
03 Dec 2008