BHV: Not just a French department store

June 9, 2010

One of Paris’ largest department stores is the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville or ‘BHV’. Women’s fashion, decoration, furniture and DIY material…you can all find it at BHV.

The slogan of the Paris BHV is ‘Tout pour trouver son bonheur.’ Translated ‘Everything to find happiness.’ One can hardly think of a worse motto for the Belgian electoral district of BHV. Unless you replace ‘bonheur’ with ‘malheur’ and ‘happiness’ with ‘misery’.

BHV in Belgium

Is called ‘BHV’ or Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde, after the 3 main cities in the electoral district.

Is the only bilingual electoral district in Belgium.

Consists of Belgium’s capital city Brussels, which is officially bilingual (French-Dutch) , and the 35 Flemish municipalities surrounding it, where Dutch is the main language. French-speaking inhabitants of these Flemish municipalities can vote for French-speaking parties. Most Flemish parties want to end this. Some due to a fear of ‘Frenchification’.

Has been the root of instability in the Belgian government, with Dutch-speaking parties favouring a split of the electoral district and French-speaking parties opposing this. The situation has escalated ever since the federal elections in 2007. In the period between then and now the Belgian government/government formation has collapsed/failed 5 times.

Beyond BHV

In the current election campaign, the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA (New-Flemish Alliance) have taken the debate further than merely splitting up the electoral district of BHV.

Bart De Wever, the party leader of the N-VA also stated that his party would like to see the Brussels Capital Region abolished.

Politicians from various parties, who want to maintain or even strengthen the Brussels Capital Region, have been tripping over each other to discredit his statements. The Francophone business daily L’Echo was pleased to note that almost all other Flemish parties, including CD&V (Christian Democrats), sp.a (Social Democrats), Open VLD (Liberals) and Groen ! (Greens) have joined the French-speaking parties in their criticism on these statements made by De Wever.

Brussels

The commotion surrounding De Wever’s statements about Brussels is much-telling. Brussels is, in many people’s opinion, what keeps the country together.

For instance, the N-VA seems ill-prepared for the practical implications of their proposals, such as splitting up Belgian social security. How would this work in Brussels? In a debate with Frank Vandenbroucke (sp.a) and Philippe Moureaux (PS), this became painfully clear. When quizzed by Vandenbroucke on issues such as whether employees in Brussels will have their social security arranged on the basis of a Francophone or a Flemish system and how this would work with for instance the many Flemish and Walloons who commute to Brussels daily for their work NV-A’s social security expert Danny Pieters was struggling to answer Vandenbroucke’s questions.

Brussels will always be a stumbling block for the Flemish nationalists. As Alexander De Croo, leader of the Flemish Liberals put it in an interview:

“In my opinion, it is impossible to divide Belgium…it’s like a…Siamese twin where basically Brussels is the heart that we have in common. And if you want to split that the heart will stop beating … and that is not what we want. We are for a very large part dependent on the economic power of Brussels, on the attractiveness of Brussels. Splitting the country in two is playing with our prosperity and that I do not want to do.”

Brussels: Tout pour trouver son bonheur?

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