“What to do with Brussels” has gained some serious electoral value. Several parties have acknowledged that this topic needs to be addressed in the light of the upcoming communal and regional elections.
This is the second of a series in which we present an analysis of the proposals made by the current political parties (and hopefully the new ones too).
Zakia Khattabi – tabula rasa
In an interview with Le Soir in January, Zakia Khattabi (Ecolo) openly stated that Brussels can no longer be the hostage of the 2 language communities.
This statement is remarkable for 2 reasons:
First, she is a politician, and this is a direct attack on the common political practice to use Brussels as a bargaining chip in the ever lasting communautairian war between the 2 language communities. Usually, both sides accuse the other of doing this, but Zakia Khattabi humbles them both by acting as the adult in this debate.
Secondly, she introduces a third actor in this tug-of-war: Brussels itself, as a separate entity, that needs to be freed. Brussels as a metaphor for something bigger than language feuds and regional interests. Brussels as an identity, neither Wallon nor Flemish.
We like it.
But what does it mean?
What follows is a summary – and commentary – of the interview in Le Soir
Brussels is built on a misconception
The basis of her narrative lies in the tragic misconception that Brussels is the sum of a French speaking and a Flemish speaking community. This may have been true in the past, but this no longer corresponds to any reality. Yet, in the political reality, Brussels is driven by this dichotomy: every political decision is made in the light of Wallon interests versus Flemish interests, but never in the light of Brussels’ interest. On top of that, the Brussel political chessboard is further dispersed over 19 communal territories that all have their own interests as well.
Add to this that almost the entire Brussels Regional Parliament is comprised of Mayors, Aldermen and local Council members of these same communal territories, and it is easy to see that there is literally nobody who can look beyond their own fence and actually, honestly, care about Brussels as a bigger entity; the sum of 19; the collective; the region.
Zakhia Khattabi wants to break this. She wants Brussels to exist on its own, based on its own model, not those of Flanders and Wallonia. A model built up from scratch.
Because once we recognise that Brussels is made of Brussels residents, and not of Wallons and Flemish accidentally living together in the same space, the institutional logic starts to break down: in this setting, there is no more need for Cocof (French Community Commission), VGC (Flemish Community Commission) and Cocom (Common Community Commission). Their capabilities can shift to the Region, serving the Brusseleirs, rather than the “Francophones” and the “Néerlandophones”. Because, at the end of the day, what is the point of having two separate policies for disabled people. Or sports. Or employment and training. It does not correspond to any actual reality.
So far, we completely agree. We do however recognise the fact that aside of Brussels being the home to 1.2M Brusseleirs, it is also the capital of Belgium, so, the cultivation of both languages – and more specifically, bilingual public service – must have its place somewhere. We don’t think it needs to be institutionalised to the extreme as it is now, but we have to acknowledge the capital function of Brussels, and we’re missing this in the interview.
Tabula rasa – creating a Brussels from Brussels
Zakia continues by questioning the validity of 19 waste policies, of 19 parking policies and discusses a possible shift of capabilities from the Commune to the Region, thus reducing the weight of the communes. At the same time she acknowledges that this will be very difficult to achieve, as the regional parliament is composed of the very same people who would have to let that local power go.
She does however, strongly emphasize that this too, should be part of the debate, and the same is true for other taboos, like the police zones, the bilingual lists, the number of parliamentarian seats, and by extension the guaranteed Flemish representation in the Regional Government.
All these taboos must at least be broken and put on the table, to start from a clean slate and create a “Brussels from Brussels”.
Here, we are a little disappointed. We love the promise, but she stops at the observation, leaves the door open, and does not take a clear position (which she clearly did with the Community – Region discussion). She hints at it, but we would have liked to hear that powerful local politicians have no business in the Regional Parliament and vice versa, and that by reducing the weight of the Commune, the need for a full administration disappears by the same logic as the Community-to-Region shift discussed above.
But it is a good start. It is daring and it sets the bar relatively high.