A row has broken out between the two Belgian liberal parties after Alexia Bertrand, the head of the French-speaking liberal party MR in Brussels, replaced the outgoing Budget State Secretary Eva De Bleeker, a member of the Flemish Open VLD. By becoming a Federal Minister, she has left MR for the liberal counterpart in Flanders.
The move is a sign of worsening relations between both liberal parties, with the Open VLD's President Ebert Lachaert, admitting that recent criticisms of his party's ministers by MR had irked him.
On Friday, the Belgian State Secretary for Budget and Consumer Protection Eva De Bleeker (Open VLD) resigned from the Federal Government as her position had grown increasingly untenable after she was found to have misrepresented budget deficit figures to EU officials.
This led the party of Belgian Prime Minster Alexander De Croo, Open VLD, to replace her in government, choosing an unlikely candidate to fill the gap: Alexia Bertrand, the head of the French-speaking liberal party MR's local chapter in Brussels.
The two parties were unified under one banner – Party for Freedom and Progress – up until 1992, after Belgium was reconstituted as a federal state based on language, with different francophone and Flemish liberal parties being set up.
A report by Le Soir revealed that Bertrand had been contacted by Lachaert with whom she shares a close relationship and both had apparently already been in prior talks over the possibility of a joint MR-Open VLD list in Brussels for the 2024 Federal Elections.
Speaking on the proposal, Bertrand told Le Soir that "when it comes from the liberal family, it's hard to refuse," and stated that her goal in politics was not to stay in opposition "but to have an impact," and that "anyone in the same situation would have done the same."
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As a result, both Bertrand and Lachaert rung Georges-Louis Bouchez, the French-speaking leader of MR, to inform him of the news. It was reported that he had not received prior warning to the appointment, before confirming the move the Royal Palace.
However in the following days, reports started emerging that Open VLD's decision to take a senior member of their French-speaking counterpart was a form of payback for the criticisms they had recieved by MR against their ministers.
While denying these claims, Lachaert did reveal on RTL-TVi's 'C'est pas tous les jours dimanche' that he had grown frustrated by these attacks on the Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on the extension of nuclear reactors, as well as 'the hard time' given to Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne over the recent murder of a police officer in Schaerbeek.
For those thinking that the weekend's events would have led MR leader Bouchez to adopt a milder approach with regards to his criticism of the Federal Government, of which his party is a member of, he tweeted on Sunday that the media had shifted their focus onto his party while listing mistakes the government had been making in recent weeks.
Translation of tweet: "The reality: No nuclear agreement, worst-ranked in the EU for budgetary terms, no response to the fact that a previously surveilled individual killed a police officer. The political sphere and the press: MR is not behaving well."
Furthermore, an article by La Libre indicated that Bertrand had been left disappointed by Bouchez's decision to snub her as Sophie Wilmès replacement as Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in favour of political novice and former TV journalist Hadja Lahbib, This could help explain why Bertrand was so quick to accept Lachaert's proposal.
A linguist and interpreter at VUB, Esli Struys, took to Twitter to give a different take on Alexia Bertrand's appointment and the ensuing row. "Bertrand is perfectly bilingual, born in Antwerp, lives in Brussels. Is it still relevant to assign a multilingual person exclusively to one language community?"