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Municipalities with linguistic facilities
The municipalities with linguistic facilities or municipalities with facilities (Dutch: "faciliteitengemeenten", French: "communes à facilités") are a small group of Belgian municipalities with special law provisions to protect rights of their (historic) linguistic minorities.
Basically, in these municipalities it is possible to relate with the local administration, and with the federal administration, in another language than the official language of the Region within which the municipality lies. For instance, in those municipalities, French-speakers in Flanders and Dutch-and German-speakers in Wallonia, and French-speakers in the German language area may obtain administrative documents from local public authorities or from certain federal authorities in their mother tongue. In addition, legislation on municipalities also provides for equal public funding for primary schools for the language minority, as well as information in the minority language from the national railway company. For public services and documents from intermediate authorities (such as the provincial and regional authorities), such rights do not exist, or to a very limited measure (e.g. certain summary information).
4.2 Municipalities in Wallonia with Dutch-language facilities
The roots of these facilities lie in the early 20th century. Back then, the boundaries of the regions of Belgium evolved over time as a consequence of the successive linguistic census by municipality, a system now abolished. Basically, when a municipality had a majority of Dutch-speakers, it belonged to the Dutch-speaking linguistic region, while if it had a majority of French-speakers, it belonged to the Walloon region (or to the Brussels region in certain cases). In the event French-speakers or Dutch-speakers made between 30 and 50 per cent of the population in a municipality, the municipality then enjoyed linguistic facilities. In practice, over time it led to an expansion of the Brussels Region from 7 to 19 municipalities (now the Brussels-Capital Region). This expansion was resented by the Dutch-speakers, so the linguistic system was abolished and the linguistic boundaries as well as which municipalities had linguistic facilities were frozen in the sixties.
Indeed, in the sixties when Flemish emancipation towards equal rights lead to the constitutional establishment of 4 linguistic areas, each with its legally protected official language: the Flemish area (now also corresponding with the Flemish Region), which is Dutch-speaking, the Brussels area, which is bilingual French-Dutch, and the Walloon area (mostly French-speaking, except for the German language area along the border with Germany).
One, among many, of the triggers to the establishment of these linguistic areas was in 1958 the public unrest between French-speakers and Dutch-speakers during the Brussels World Exhibition , e.g. at Wemmel. The then Belgian authorities had organised these events giving a exclusively French-speaking image towards the world. That kind of attitudes from the then mainly French-speaking Belgian elite was deeply resented by Dutch-speakers.
Before 1961: last linguistic census in Belgium. The way these censuses were conducted was equally resented by Dutch-speakers. It had proven a conduct for the establishment of ever more French-speakers in the Flemish villages around Brussels, where most of these new arrivals were unwilling to respect the Dutch-speaking and Flemish character of those areas. Once the number of French-speakers went beyond 50% (at certain points even those considering themselves as "bilingual" were added in), the municipality was transferred towards the Brussels area, French acquired official status, and the de facto political and administrative life rapidly became dominated by French-speakers, many of the unilingual migrants from Wallonia and Brussels. Through this mechanism, the Brussels area grew from 6 municipalities in 1830 towards 19 in 1963.
The resentment in Flanders deepened, and more and more frictions arose.
That situation around Brussels (in the so-called rim municipalities, see below) differs fondamentally from the situation along the border between Flanders and Wallonia, and between the German and French-speaking areas in Wallonia. There, certain municipalities have had linguistic minorities since several centuries. The language border appears quite stable and peaceful, except for the municipalities of Voeren (French: Fourons) and to a much lesser extent Mouscron (Dutch: Moeskroen) and Comines-Warneton (Dutch: Komen-Waasten).
Actual implementation of linguistic facilities
Currently, both Flemings and French-speakers voice complaints about poor or absent respect by certain authorities for their linguistic rights. It is quite difficult to assess and appreciate the true nature and extent of these illegal situations. Both competent Belgian and European Courts are frequently sollicited to arbitrate. Political discussions are often held in various competent assemblies as the Belgian Parliament (which is institutionally competent in these matters), and in the regional and community parliaments assemblies. Even assemblies without any legal competency at all as the Council of Europe (COE) became involved.
In terms of objective observations, one notes:
- That the Flemish authorities finance French-speaking schools in the Flemish municipalities with facilities for the French-speakers (see below for a list; annual subvention nearly 10 million Euro); in contrast, the authorities of the French-speaking community do not finance Dutch-speaking schools in the Walloon municipalities with facilities for the Flemings (both are legally required to do so).
- In terms of local public services and communication, it seems that the Flemish municipalities with facilities have a correct bilingual communication (e.g. their websites are bi- or even multi-lingual), whereas Walloon municipalities with facilities appear monolingual in their general communication towards their inhabitants.
- That Belgian courts are extremely reluctant to arbitrate in all matters related to the linguistic and ethnic rights of the various ethnic and linguistic groups in Belgium.
Given the continuing refusal of many French-speakers who migrate(d) towards the "rim municipalities", the Flemings grew more and more dissatisfied by this growing body of French-speakers that militantly deny the Flemish legislation and the Flemish character of these areas. As a result, there is now a nearly consensus in Flanders that the current linguistic facilities cannot be maintained, especially around Brussels. For the facilities in the municipalities with historic minorities on the Walloon-Flemish border, there is still a willingness to consider maintaining them on condition of strict reciprocity (that these facilities are also re-established in practice in the corresponding Walloon cities).
Clearly, the nationalist French-speakers want to maintain all current facilities in Flanders, extend them in scope and in area. This would result in a de facto extension of the bilingual area of Brussels. Many French-speaking political parties especially protested against the Flemish ministerial circular letters from the socialist minister Leo Peeters . Their complaint with the Council of State is still pending.
However, the Flemish point of view is also shared by several well known French-speaking personalities as the philosopher Philippe Van Parijs , holder of the prestigious Hoover Chair at the Université catholique de Louvain.
Lili Nabholz-Haidegger , a Swiss deputy, made a report on September 5, 2002 inviting Belgium to recognise the fact that there is a French-speaking minority in Flanders. This report was approved by the Council of Europe. However, this assembly, contrary to the Belgian and regional legislators, and to the Belgian and European judiciary, has no legal competency in these matters. Moreover, this recommendation is seen by several experts as on legally unstable grounds as there is no definition of national minorities (not from EU legislation, nor from any other competent international body), nor did it include any such definition that is sufficiently suitable to gain international acceptance.
List of municipalities with facilities
Municipalities in Flanders with French-language facilities
In Flanders there are two kinds of municipalities with facilities. Rim municipalities (randgemeenten in Dutch) are situated in the Flemish rim around the Brussels-Capital Region and form part of Flemish Brabant. The other municipalities are called language border municipalities (taalgrensgemeenten in Dutch) because they lie close to the border with Wallonia.
- Kraainem (French: Crainhem)
- Sint-Genesius-Rode (French: Rhode-Saint-Genèse)
Wezembeek-Oppem and Kraainem are sometimes referred to as the "Oostrand" (literally "East rim" in English). In 2005, a survey conducted by an independent research agency, Dedicated Research , and published in Le Soir on February 14, 2005, indicated that in all six rim municipalities, the majority of the population was French-speakers (the study was unofficial, since public authorities refuse to undertake any census). More precisely, the survey estimated that the French-speaking population in Drogenbos amounts to 55 % of the population, 78 % in Kraainem, 79 % in Linkebeek, 54 % in Wemmel, 72 % in Wezembeek-Oppem, and 58 % in Sint-Genesius-Rode.
Language border municipalities
- Bever (French: Biévène)
- Mesen (French: Messines)
- Ronse (French: Renaix)
- Spiere-Helkijn (French: Espierres-Helchin)
- Voeren (French: Fourons)
Municipalities in Wallonia with Dutch-language facilities
- Comines-Warneton (Dutch: Komen-Waasten)
- Enghien (Dutch: Edingen)
- Flobecq (Dutch: Vloesberg)
- Mouscron (Dutch: Moeskroen)
Municipalities in Wallonia with German-language facilities
Municipalities in Wallonia belonging to the German language region with French-language facilities
All municipalities in the German language region have French-language facilities:
- Amel (French: Amblève)
- Büllingen (French: Bullange)
- Bütgenbach (French: Butgenbach)
- Eupen (French: Néau)
- Kelmis (French: La Calamine)
- Sankt Vith (French: Saint-Vith)
- List of Belgian municipalities
- List of municipalities of Wallonia
- List of municipalities of Flanders
- Municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region
- De Gordel
- Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities   (not ratified by Belgium)
- European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (not ratified by Belgium)
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