The Flemish parliament has confirmed the appointment of Wilfried Vandaele of N-VA as its new president, taking over from temporary stand-in Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang.
At a special session of the parliament called by Dewinter himself, N-VA, as the largest party, put forward Vandaele’s name as expected, and his appointment was approved without opposition. The decision averts the thought of Dewinter, who stepped in as vice-president of the institution on the resignation of Kris Van Dijck this week amid allegations of drunk driving and undue influence on behalf of an escort worker, remaining for long in the chair.
Wilfried Vandaele (photo) is a party stalwart, going back beyond the creation of N-VA to its predecessor Volksunie. Now aged 60, he has only been a full-time politician for a decade, after he stepped into the seat vacated when Geert Bourgeois went to become minister-president of Flanders in 2009. Vandaele thus become the first member of parliament ever sent to Brussels from his home town, the beach resort of De Haan in West Flanders.
Before that, he was a member of the municipal council in De Haan since 1988, and alderman from 2006 to 2012. He became mayor earlier this year.
Prior to 2009, his main activity was as a member of the foundation that works to advance cooperation between Dutch and Flemish on language issues, as well as spokesperson for the Flemish Environment Agency.
That background followed him into the parliament, when he earned the reputation of being “an N-VA green” for his concentration on environmental matters. To such an extent, in fact, that he was prepared to criticise the Flemish government’s minister for the environment Joke Schauvliege (CD&V), whom he described as a spokesperson for the farming lobby – she was also minister for agriculture, which he saw as an insurmountable conflict of interest. On one occasion he presented Schauvliege with an axe as a symbol of her inability to protect the region’s forests. That protest led to an investigation into how he had been able to smuggle a “weapon” into the parliament.
Vandaele had served as the second deputy president of the parliament under party colleague Jan Peumans, and was seen as close to Peumans in philosophy. His appointment to the new job confirms him as a safe pair of hands.
On taking the chair of the parliament, Vandaele said it was an honour which had been bestowed on him, but that he took up the post “with mixed feelings,” a reference to the sudden resignation of his party colleague and predecessor Kris Van Dijck. “I think it’s important for us to restore peace to this house,” he told the VRT.