A 15-member delegation from the Dutch province of Friesland/ Fryslân visited the German-speaking Community in Belgium on Tuesday and Wednesday this week (29 - 30 August, 2017). Under the direction of the Royal Commissioner Arno Brock, provincial deputies as well as representatives of two Frisian support and advisory committees had come to East Belgium to find out about the Autonomy Law of the German-speakers and about the legal position of the German language in Belgium.
Friesland, called West Fryslân, is sparsely populated with an area of ??5,724 km² with 645,410 inhabitants, compared to the other Dutch provinces. The province is divided into 24 municipalities.
The Provincial Parliament (Dutch Provinciale Staten) is located in the provincial capital of Leeuwarden and consists of 43 elected members of wich 4 are from the Fyske Nasjonale partij, founding member party of the European Free Alliance.
FNP group leader Corlienke de Jong was very impressed with the visit and declared that:
“The way the German speaking part of Belgium implemented the German language, as official language in the regional and local public administration, schools, courts, … is an example for all regions and nations in Europe with minority languages. In the East part of Belgium the mother tongue of the majority of the population is German.”
A province in the Netherlands is administered by a commissioner of the king. Since March 2017, this has been Arno Brok.
The background of the visit to Eupen was that the Frisian people in the province of Friesland were granted certain special rights in the use of the Frisian language. The Frisian language is also to be better protected and promoted.
In the province of Friesland the West Frisian, Frysk, is also used as the official language. Besides these two official languages, various other dialects and linguistic varieties of Frisian, Dutch and Lower Saxon are spoken in the province. Of the approximately 650,000 inhabitants of Fryslân, approximately 450,000 speak Frisian, of which approximately 360,000 are native speakers.
Knowing this, the Frisian delegation wanted to find out about the status of the German-speakers in Belgium. On Tuesday evening, Minister President Oliver Paasch presented the German-speaking Community in a short speech. The next morning the delegation was a guest in the Parliament of the German-speaking Community. In detailed lectures, President Alexander Miesen and Greffier Stephan Thomas gave an in-depth account of the autonomy of the German-speaking Community and its integration into the federal state structure. In the light of the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages, Karl-Heinz Lambertz described the legal position of the German language in Belgium. The Frisian delegation, for its part, explained the language policy in Friesland.
In the afternoon, the guests visited the Court of First Instance, where President Charles Heindrichs and Judge Nathalie Corman discussed the practice of using the German language in the courtroom. Judge Marc Lazarus then went on to explain how the build up of German legal terminology was done.
The interest of the Frisian delegation in the regulations adopted for the protection of the German language in Belgium was important, as manifested by the large number of questions. The Frisian deputies were impressed by the scope of autonomy and the legal position of the German language. For their part, the East-Belgian representatives were able to establish that the situation of the German-speaking people in Belgium is quite an example, even if there is still a great deal to be developed in the practical application of legislation to protect the German language even beter.
The Minister-President of the German speaking community Oliver Paasch is the son of Laurenz Paasch from the party Partei der Deutschsprachiger Belgien (PDB), also founding member party of EFA. The Party PDB was converted into a new broad party called ProDG.