The steering committee of the Flemish parliament decided to postpone allocating the region’s four seats on the governing board of the inter-federal agency for equal rights, Unia. The delay was caused by Vlaams Belang (VB) stating that it would exercise its right to one of the seats.
Following the regional elections in May, VB was achieved 18% of the vote and a record number of seats in the parliament, which in principle would give it the right to one of the four seats reserved for Flemish parties. In claiming this seat VB would take over from Open VLD. VB insisted it intended to take up its seat, but the prospect of a far-right party on the board of an anti-racist body has caused some embarrassment.
Unia, formerly known as the centre for equal opportunities and the fight against racism, has a governing board of 20 members. Ten are appointed by the federal parliament, five from each language group. Another ten come from the regional and community parliaments. In addition, one appointee from the German-speaking community sits in on issues relating to the community itself. Of the 20 full-time members, the rules require gender and language parity.
“We plan to take up our seat,” commented Chris Janssens, VB fraction leader in the Flemish parliament, speaking on VRT radio. “And we plan to take a very critical stance.”
VB has in the past criticised Unia as “thought police” and a “council for complaining foreigners”. Speaking on the VRT he held to the party line.
“For us, there are no wrong opinions, only criminal acts. Unia wants to use the courts as a punishment, instead of tackling actual discrimination. This institution is heavily subsidised, with the main purpose of dragging Flemish people through the mud.”
Speaking for Unia, co-director Els Keytsman (pictured) said the arrival of VB would be “interesting”.
“We’re talking about one person out of 21 board members. They have to work very hard, preparing meetings and taking decisions on a variety of matters. This could be a chance for us to show that we are not the kind of cliché that a lot of VB supporters think we are.”
However she did suggest the parliaments might opt for a different method of selecting board members, by issuing an open call for candidates.
“Anyone who was interested and had the necessary experience could apply for the opening and perhaps be selected by the members of parliament,” she said. “I would hope that the Flemish parliament would not take the decision on the basis of outdated political culture.”
Janssens, meanwhile, saw this as a diversionary tactic. “Strange how self-professed democrats want to tinker with the rules when the results don’t suit them,” he said. “We have a right to a seat and will take it up. I expect the other parties to simply take note of the fact, just as we have done in the past.”