Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois is to hold talks with representatives of Open VLD and his own party N-VA in East Flanders, to try to settle a dispute over the nomination of a new governor of the province. Provincial elections took place at the same time as the last municipal elections in October, but while the members of the provincial council are all seated, East Flanders province remains headless. Previous governor Jan Briers retired on 1 November as planned, and the post is being occupied by acting governor Didier Detollenaere.
The clash between N-VA – which has proposed Wim Leerman, director of the city of Aalst, as Briers’ replacement – and Open VLD – whose candidate is MP Carina Can Cauter – has led to a stand-off, with VLD president Gwendolyn Rutten promising to stonewall any alternative if Van Cauter is not approved.
Rutten also decried what she called a “targetted leak” of the results of an assessment test taken by both candidates, which showed Van Cauter had a lower score that Leerman in certain key sections. The leak to De Tijd newspaper then complicated the issue when Van Cauter herself withdrew from the race, claiming that opponents to her appointment were “trying to discredit” her. She was not prepared to see her reputation as a strong member of parliament dragged through the dirt, she said.
It will now be up to Bourgeois to resolve the situation, either by convincing Rutten to life her blockade on any alternative candidate, or simply by over-ruling any objection. A new procedure introduced this year has turned the job into an open vacancy: 100 people applied, leading to a shortlist of 15 names. Van Cauter and Leerman were pushed forward by their parties. But the final decision rests with the Flemish government.
In the meantime, acting governor Detollenaere – who is himself due to retire in February next year – said, “It’s going to be difficult, but with our staff we’re trying to do the best we can.”