Belgium has one of the highest per capita public debts in the EU, and a pension system whereby the workers pay for the pensions. So there is a serious challenge of keeping the public pension system viable and sustainable in the near future when the population will be aging.
According to the Dutch-language Belgian newspaper De Standaard, Belgian politicians have decided that the best qualified candidate for the position to lead the Belgian National Office for Pensions will not be appointed. The reason? He is Dutch-speaking, and it was decided that appointing him would bring the balance of francophone versus Dutch speaking high office public servants in danger.
Strictly speaking this is not the case, since the official parity rule (that the positions of General Director are 50/50 split between the Flemish and francophone language groups) is respected. But apparently if one takes the Adjunct-General Directors of all Belgian Departments and Offices into account, a francophone needs to be appointed in order to have a 50/50 balance at these two levels taken together.
The obvious solution would be to require all top-level public officials to be bilingual, as private firms in Belgium tend to do too; but apparently a proposal to that effect in a major set of federal reforms in 2000 didn’t pass.
Apart from the obvious comment that 50/50 may not be needed since the Belgian population is not 50/50 francophone/Flemish but rather roughly 40/60, it is simply mindblowing that such an important position in a crucial welfare state institution is not given to the best qualified person. Surely the financial sustainability of the state pensions must matter to francophones as much as to the Flemish, so they have an equal stake in the best person making sure that the system remains viable. No francophone candidate passed the selection procedures, so the solution one has chosen for is to start searching again, and only francophone candidates can apply.
I tried to search in francophone Belgian newspapers (Le Soir, La Libre Belgique, la Derniere Heure) to read the views ‘from the other side’. I couldn’t find a single mentioning to this affair. No surprise that the two language communities have such different understandings of the eternal Belgian political crisis if such news is only reported in one part of the country.