Late September, some of Brussels’ politicians and blue sky thinkers discussed a new language approach for the capital of Belgium and of the EU. Participants at the Marnix Plan launch event on 28 September could feel an optimism hanging in the air: a general willingness for politics to move closer towards multilingualism – always a sensitive issue in Belgium.

Three interviewees reacted both with interest and caution to this idea of trilingual education in Brussels. You can find the interview with Pascal Smet below, and the other interviews here.


Pascal Smet is the Flemish minister of education and a member of the Flemish socialist party sp.a. He spoke to EurActiv founder Christophe Leclercq.

I noticed that the two Dutch-speaking guests on this panel were insisting on trilingual education in Brussels. Why is that?

Because English is the international and economic language in the world. It is the language of the political world, the diplomatic world, the tourism sector. For the next twenty or thirty years, English will dominate as global language.

If you look at Eastern, Asian countries, for instance, you notice that Japanese or Chinese children all are learning English. Our kids, in our schools, should learn English just as much.

What’s more, if Brussels wants to be an international city, it should go even further and declare English as an official language of the city.

Wouldn’t this threaten Dutch, which people would then learn less often if they already speak other languages?

I don’t think that’ll be the case. People will always have an interest in learning the language of the region that they live in. What I’d like to see is everyone that lives in Brussels speaking at least one common language, and that language could be English. There will always be Dutch-speaking people, for example the people going to Dutch schools. It is not an issue.

I hear there are considerable issues setting up bilingual schools, amongst others in the case of immersion schemes. Would a top-down solution perhaps be to label some schools as European schools, instead of having Dutch- or French-speaking schools solely?

No, I think you schools will always be managed by the French-speaking or Dutch-speaking community. But there’s an opportunity in having these schools organise themselves, and teaching French from the first year on.

In the end, a bilingual school is a means to achieve an aim and that aim is that all these children would learn three languages: Dutch, French and English. How to organize this could be left to the respective school systems themselves.

What’s the time frame: can this be achieved within years?

At this point, the question is whether there are enough teachers to teach the children Dutch, especially in the French speaking system. And so the answer is: no, not within years. Whether you have bilingual schools or traditional schools, the problem remains: there’s a lack of teachers who speak the taught language sufficiently well.

I think that’s the core of why our communities are not working together. We should have a better exchange of good teachers.

Concerning the upcoming elections in May 2014: there are many non-natives who have an interest in voting in their constituencies but they don’t have the right to vote – not only eurocrats, also other inhabitants of Brussels. Why not give them the right to vote?

I agree. In 2009, I wrote book on the future of Brussels. Granting voting rights was one of my proposals, not only for local elections (as is the case today) but also for regional elections. This would change the balance of power in the city, since many people that come and live in Belgium actually live in the city. They also have a different view on how the city should work.

In the last reform of the Belgian state, the Flemish socialists introduced this reform of voting rights. At the time, we were the only one in favour of it, though. We’ll have to work together on this in the future.


[UPDATE]: On Wednesday 23 October, we published an article on, based on the interviews above. Read the article via this link: English should be Brussels’ official language, Flemish minister says

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