The Council of State yesterday overturned a decision by Flemish minister-president Liesbeth Homans refusing to recognise the nominations of the mayors of four communes in the Brussels periphery.
In her previous capacity as minister for home affairs, Homans had refused to ratify the nominations of the mayors of Sint-Genesius-Rode, Wezembeek-Oppem, Drogenbos and Linkebeek, four communes in Flemish Brabant which nevertheless have a majority of French-speaking residents.
Homans argued the four communes had broken the law by sending out official election documents in French, in addition to those her department had sent – in Dutch – to the governor of the province. When the new councils were elected, they each presented their choice as mayor to the minister, but she refused to ratify.
The contested documents went to residents who had registered their language preference in advance; the question of the language of official documents in the communes around Brussels goes back years to before Homans was appointed to the government. She argued, however, that residents who wish to receive papers in French have to re-register for each new election, and so the choice was not valid. The four mayors – Pierre Rolin (Sint-Genesius-Rode), Frédéric Petit (Wezembeek-Oppem), Alexis Calmeyn (Drogenbos) and Yves Ghequiere (Linkebeek) – took their case to the Council of State, whose function is to scrutinise government actions at any level.
The Council of State has now upheld the decision of its auditors, that a request for documents in French need be made only once in four years, and not on every single occasion as Homans argued. The court described Homans’ argumentation as “unsound” and “a disproportionate restriction” of the rights of residents. The Council also pointed to previous rulings along the same lines from 2014 and 2017, and multiple reminders since then. “The Flemish government may not set that interpretation aside,” the ruling says.
The ruling also has immediate effect: the four mayors are automatically ratified in their posts, without any further action from Homans or her replacement as minister.
Yves Ghequière (photo) reacted with “relief” to the Council of State’s judgement. “This is not only our first victory on a judicial level, but at the same time a victory for democracy,” he told Bruzz. The decision allows Linkebeek to appoint another alderman to fill the space he now vacates to become mayor officially.
Homans herself said the ruling was “not surprising,” but described it as “unfortunate that a broad consensus over the years in Flanders has now been undone.”