For the first time ever, the mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, took it upon himself to make a speech on the traditional Flemish festival day of July 11. The event is normally celebrated in the City Hall of Brussels – considered by Flanders as the region’s capital – but the mayor has until now been the host, not a participant. In his speech, Close (pictured), a member of the French-speaking PS socialist party like his disgraced predecessor Yvan Mayeur, stressed the importance of the links between Brussels and Flanders – a region which completely surrounds the city, as well as providing thousands of workers and the seat of the Flemish government.
“Brussels will not let Flanders go,” he said. “But Flanders needs Brussels too.” Some 28,000 students from Flanders go to school in Brussels at the VUB and university colleges, while another 250,000 commuters travel from Flanders into the city to work, not to mention the population which makes up the heart of Flemish creativity – among them pop icon Arno, theatre maker Jan Decorte and film-maker Marc Didden – who have helped create a Brussels Soho in the Dansaert area.
Meanwhile, in his more traditional address on July 11 at the City Hall, Jan Peumans, speaker of the Flemish Parliament, called for the creation of a Flemish constitution which would lay down “the principles of a democratic, modern and diverse society”. Such a constitution would, he said, have equal footing with the Belgian constitution, and express Flanders’ own character and identity.
The actual legal status of such a document, however, has not been and is unlikely ever to be determined. Back in 2012, then-minister president Kris Peeters unveiled what he called a charter for Flanders’ future, careful to avoid the word “constitution”. The charter then covered largely the same ground as Peumans’ constitution now. It has not been heard of since.