The parties making up the federal coalition government have clashed over the appointment of a new director to run Bozar, the country’s largest arts centre.
Bozar is currently being run by Paul Dujardin, who has been in place since 2002, and whose third term should have ended in 2019. However the caretaker government of the time decided to keep him in place until a new government could be formed, which took until November 2020.
The procedure to appoint a new director has started, and the 13 original candidates were whittled down to three: Dujardin himself, administrator of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam Jan Raes, and Swiss-born Christian Longchamps, formerly of La Monnaie and the Opéra National in Paris.
Raes, brother of the TV sports reporter Frank, took himself out of the running when he was appointed director of Opera Ballet Vlaanderen.
Longchamps is known to have the favour of Sophie Wilmès, former prime minister, now foreign minister and charged with the federal cultural institutions – Bozar, or the Centre For Fine Arts to give it its Sunday name, the Monnaie/Munt opera house, and the National Orchestra of Belgium.
Dujardin is a candidate still, but has little support. Not only would a fourth term be unprecedented – the law on federal appointments had to be changed in 2013 to allow him a third term – but he has few friends among Bozar staff and unions.
In September last year the unions called for him to be dismissed, a call they had previously made in 2018 and 2019. His management style is considered authoritarian, and unions have promised there can be no discussion of the issues facing the centre if Dujardin remains in place – with the exception of Covid-19 precautions.
When government ministers met on Friday, Wilmès was ready to present Longchamps as a fait accompli. But something got in the way – according to De Tijd it was the socialist parties – to stop the nomination going ahead.
Wilmès will now have to clear whatever the objection is, while Dujardin remains in place. He was unwilling to comment at the weekend, until a final decision is announced.