Thursday, 13 September 2007

Anyone who speaks Belgian?

The governor of the National Bank of Belgium, the ever softly speaking Guy Quaden, warned Thursday in an interview with the newspapers De Tijd and l’Echo that the long duration of the political crisis could affect the economy of the country. Only a government can take up the budgetary measures needed this and next year to confront the cost of the graying of the population, he said. And how long can Belgium remain the champion of the European cause, Quaden asked, if it does not succeed in keeping together only two cultures.

The warning was lost in the noise over a typical Belgian political incident. While royal scout Herman Van Rompuy seems to have imposed absolute radio-silence to his negotiation-partners, M. Leterme, the strongman of Van Rompuy’s Flemish christian democratic party CD&V, thought it possible to give a benign interview to Karrewiet, the youth news of the Flemish public broadcast Ketnet (picture).

To illustrate to the kids how compromises can be made however he used the example of an agreement a few years ago whereby Flemish parties accepted the demand from the Walloons to lower taxes on the building of new schools. Some Flemish journalist heard about the story Wednesday before it was broadcasted. They concluded that Leterme, as a gesture of goodwill, was proposing new money to the ever cash-stricken Walloon education department.

Then they called on Walloon politicians for a reaction. As Leterme, who obtained a monster-score in Flanders in the elections on June the 10th, is very unpopular in Wallony, these reactions were largely negative. ‘M. Leterme is portraying us, Walloons, in front of children as beggars’, said Marie Arena, the Walloon education minister. ‘He should better keep his mouth shut’, pointedly remarked Joëlle Milquet, a christian democrat leader like Leterme, but from the Walloon party.

On Thursday morning the Leterme-incident was front page-news in most of the Walloon newspapers, and the subject of bitter editorials. It learned, once again, that the Belgian dispute is also a matter of misunderstandings through communication in different languages (and probably bad journalism as well). And it proved that the nerves of the Belgian politicians are more and more put to the test.

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