Sunday, February 6, 2011

Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) for dummies

One of the biggest tumors in Belgium's political intestines is the electoral district Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV). It is the most recent example of the language conflicts that haunt the country. It is also the first thing people ask me about when I tell them that I live in Halle. Now I've finally sponged up the knowledge needed to give you a short explanation.

The language border between francophone Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders was established in 1963. Brussels, which is located completely within Flanders, is bilingual, with French and Dutch as equal official languages.

Corresponding perfectly with the border between the Flanders and Wallonia regions, the language border is more than a dividing line between the French-speakers and the Dutch-speakers. It also restricts your options in federal elections. Voters living in an electoral district in Flanders are required to vote for a Dutch-speaking party, for example Bart De Wever's N-VA. Voters living in Wallonia must vote for a francophone (French-speaking) party, such as Elio Di Rupo's Socialist Party.

The Communities of Belgium. Tan: Dutch-language/Flemish (Flanders). Red: French (Wallonia). Tan/Red: Flemish & French/bilingual (Brussels). Green: German (East Cantones).

This system may sound foreign to you, but trust me, it gets worse. Belgium is a dungeon of political geography, and the Frankenstein monster at its centre is the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde electoral district.

The BHV electoral district includes the municipalities making up the Brussels-Capital Region and the municipalities around Halle and Vilvoorde. The entire district is bilingual when it comes to federal and European elections. This means that the bilingual population of Brussels can vote for both francophone and Dutch-language parties.

A map of the province Flemish Brabant, with the BHV electoral district in blue, red and dark red. The blue and dark red are Dutch-language municipalities, while the big red one is the bilingual Brussels-Capital Region.

The problem is that the people in Halle and Vilvoorde are also part of the same electoral district, and thus have the same option even though they live within the Flemish Community and thus should only be allowed to vote for Dutch-language politicians. This is impossible anywhere else in Flanders or Wallonia.

An example of imbalance: a French-speaker living in Halle in the BHV can vote for a francophone party, but a Dutch-speaker living in Walloon Brabant, only a few kilometers south of here but in a Walloon electoral district, will not have the opportunity to vote for a Dutch-speaking politician.

The BHV was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in 2003. It was hoped that this would lead to a split of the electoral district, but so far nothing has happened. I trust goold old Belgian spirit to keep this one going for at least a few more years.

This is an extremely complicated matter, and I am a bit of a nincompoop when it comes to politics. If you want to know more about BHV and are not intimidated by tons of information, check out this Wikipedia article.


  1. No, I think you explained it well :) I guess I was one of the dummies because I didn't really know what was going on before I read your post! Thanks sweetie ;) <3 <3 <3

  2. Phew, thanks! No problem, glad you like it :) <3 <3 <3

  3. One of the absurdities of Belgium: the linguistic border. We have three national languages but we're not supposed to have the freedom to choose which language we speak in which place!

    Second absurdity: we cannot even vote for any party we wish. Imagine I were still living in Flanders and wanted to vote for Di Rupo (which I probably would have considered for sure) I wouldn't be allowed, as if it were a party from a different country.

    Add these two absurdities together and you get BHV. With all due respect, but aren't there more important problems to solve (unemployment, justice system that doesn't function as it should, corruption within the Church and no means to take it to court, ...) rather than to make a small area of the country suddenly look like it's the most harmful problem of the country?

    Again, leave NVA out of the formation and the government will be formed soon enough. Bart De Wever's only goal is the destruction of the Belgian state, and blowing the NVA issue out of proportion is a handy way to further stake his claim.

  4. to gerrit:

    You mean like in 2007, where the NVA was not part of the formation and still... nothing happened until now. Lots of promises, lots of talk, but no actions.