French-speaking parties reach agreement on Charter for Democracy
The French-speaking parties PS, MR, Ecolo, Les Engagés (ex-cdH) and DéFI agreed on Thursday on a refreshed version of the Charter for Democracy or so-called 'cordon sanitaire', which lays down the guidelines for their dealings with far-right parties.
"The agreement has been signed," Rajae Maouane, co-president of Ecolo, confirmed on public broadcaster RTBF. The news comes earlier than planned, as the French-speaking parties had agreed not to announce the update of the charter until the eve of 8 May, marking the 20th anniversary of the first version.
The Charter for Democracy, which states that cooperating and debating with the extreme right is not done, became red-hot a fortnight ago, when MR Chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez was a guest on the Flemish public broadcaster's political programme Terzake. There, he engaged in a debate with Tom Van Grieken, chairman of the extreme-right Vlaams Belang.
Bouchez's performance caused quite a stir in French-speaking politics and the media. PS chairman Paul Magnette suggested that the cordon sanitaire be reviewed.
According to Magnette, Bouchez's action was "a political mistake and a serious precedent. Twenty years ago, our predecessors in the democratic French-speaking parties signed an agreement in which they said they would not negotiate or debate with the extreme right. Mr Bouchez has broken that agreement'.
Now there is an adapted version of the charter, which, according to Le Soir, emphasises that cooperation and media debates with the extreme right are out of the question. The MR liberals also wanted to add the extreme left to the list, but that will not happen. Some parties, especially the MR, also argued that political agreements with other French-speaking parties that haven't signed the Charter are impossible, referring to the communist party PVDA/PTB.
"MR president Georges-Louis Bouchez did not get his chance," Ecolo co-chairman Maouane confirmed on French-language public television. "Because the essence of cordon sanitaire is the fight against the trivialisation of the extreme right."
Although the PVDA/PTB is in favour of a political and media cordon on the French-speaking side, as a national party it says it cannot agree to a cordon médiatique in Flanders. There, parties do debate with the extreme right. "As a national party, the problem for us is simple: either we have a debate with the other parties and Vlaams Belang, or we have a debate with the other parties, Vlaams Belang and the PVDA. And for the fight against fascism, I think option 2 is the best," PVDA chairman Raoul Hedebouw said. He also regrets that the Flemish parties were not involved in the debate.
The cordon sanitaire originated in 1989, when Flemish parties tried to form a united front against the extreme-right Vlaams Blok. The term cordon sanitaire was introduced into Belgian politics by the investigative journalist Hugo Gijsels.
When Vlaams Blok broke through nationally in 1991, a new initiative was launched. From then on, the traditional parties would under no circumstances make administrative or political arrangements with Vlaams Blok. The cordon sanitaire applied to the municipal elections and the national elections. After the 2000 municipal elections, the principles of the cordon sanitaire were explicitly reaffirmed in the Charter for Democracy, the charter that the French-speaking parties have now updated.
In Flanders, the cordon sanitaire resurfaced in 2019, when Vlaams Belang - the successor to Vlaams Blok - managed to win over almost 20 per cent of Flemish voters. However, they were not included in the government, whereupon the party demanded new elections in January 2020. While the French-speaking parties avoid debates with the extreme right, the Flemish parties do not shy away from discussions with Vlaams Belang.
© BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK - Vlaams Belang chairman Tom Van Grieken delivers a speech at the meeting of Vlaams Belang, Flemish far-right party in Sint-Niklaas, on the first of May, Labour Day, the International Workers' Day, Sunday 01 May 2022 - Belga Photo