An interesting proposal has surfaced to help resolve the intra-Belgian political stalemate between Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speakers, who prevail in Brussels and Wallonia: a couloir francophone (‘Francophone corridor’) that would link Wallonia to Brussels, thus ending the Belgian capital’s territorial isolation within Flanders.

Brussels is officially bilingual (Dutch and French) but is mainly French-speaking in practice. A ‘corridor’ would allow for territorial contiguity with Wallonia (officially French-speaking), thus facilitating the creation of a Brussels-Wallonia federation – a counterweight to the Flemish government, which already unites personal and territorial competences.*

The corridor would obviously have to be transferred from Flanders to Brussels (or Wallonia), possibly in exchange for a solution to the fiendishly complicated problem of B-H-V that would be favourable to the Flemish point of view.

B-H-V stands for Bruxelles-Hal-Vilvorde (in French) or Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde (in Dutch). It is an electoral district that covers both Brussels (officially bilingual) and part of Flemish Brabant (officially unilingual Dutch). Flemish political parties see B-H-V as an anachronism, as it allows French-speakers in that part of Flemish Brabant (ever more numerous, as Brussels expands) to vote for Francophone politicians (in Brussels), thus disincentivising them to integrate in Flanders and learn Dutch. All Flemish parties demand the split-up of B-H-V as a way of maintaining the territorial and linguistic integrity of Flanders.

Francophone political parties see B-H-V as an essential part of the ‘Belgian pact’, regard the proposals for its demise as an attempt to disenfranchise Francophones living in Flanders, have enlisted inspectors of the Council of Europe to find in their favour and fear that without B-H-V as a cornerstone, the split-up of Belgium would be one more step closer. Most Francophone parties would however consider splitting B-H-V in exchange for the territorial enlargement of Brussels with at least some of its mainly Francophone suburbs, and/or a territorial link to Wallonia.

The Francophone Brussels newspaper Le Soir last week published the outlines of a proposed corridor,supposedly on the table in current discussions behind closed doors aimed at resolving the ongoing crisis, that would provide a 2.5 km long link between Uccle (in Brussels) and Waterloo (in Wallonia) by transferring a narrow strip of the Zoniënwoud (Forêt de Soignes in French) from the Flemish to the Francophone side.

As with many things involving the language battles raging in Belgium, this proposal has a slightly surreal feel to it. The transfer of this nature reserve from Flanders to French-speaking Belgium would arguably change the linguistic status of its only permanent inhabitants from Dutch-speaking to French-speaking squirrels.

This map found here on this page of the Le Soir newspaper.


* presently, the Wallonian government has territorial competences in Wallonia only, and a Francophone government has personal competences concerning French-speakers in Brussels and Wallonia.