The outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker spoke about his sadness at the increasing lack of tolerance towards French-speakers on the Belgian coast.
I have noticed, over the thirty years I have been on the Belgian coast, that tolerance has been declining. Thirty years ago, I was at the baker's, the butcher's, I could place my orders in French; today we no longer accept it. So I speak German - they accept Germans, plus French speakers, he said.
A poll published on Saturday showed the nationalist N-VA party and the extremist Vlaams Belang party are on track to win a majority in the Flemish parliament.
Juncker has always been known for saying what he thinks. “Belgium is no longer a model for successful cohabitation and that makes me sad,” he added.
But he refuses to see the changes in Belgium as a symptom of a European problem. “This is a purely Belgian phenomenon. Belgium is a State, but the communities see themselves as nations, particularly Flanders. Wallonia is not a national concept in itself, but Flanders thinks of itself and behaves like a nation. It’s incredible to see these two entities, who are actually very different, living together without actually living together.”
Juncker will hand over the presidency of the European Commission to German politician Ursula van der Leyen on the 1st of November. Juncker thinks Belgium is the only nation in Europe that isn’t proud of itself. “But I am proud of Belgium for Belgium. It is a beautiful country, with talented, resourceful people.”
Juncker mentioned both his successes and failures when reflecting on his time as head of the Commission in several recent interviews. “One of my regrets is not being able to make Europeans love Europe. There is still a huge amount of distance between European politicians and the European population and that upsets me. But the latest polls say the EU has never been so popular. The poll results may look good, but I’m struggling to believe they're accurate.”
The Brussels Times
Update: This story has been updated to clarify the comments made by Juncker