Besides generating a social and political impact, crises also highlight the cultural and political differences. The current corona crisis is certainly no exception to this rule.
It’s clear that this extraordinary situation has allowed our minority government to federate Belgium, since it has been granted full powers (within the strict limits of this crisis) and since it can formally count on the support of almost the entire federal Parliament. However, a quick look at the French and Flemish newspapers is enough to spot the cultural and political differences and to realise that the situation is being analysed from a completely different perspective in the different regions of our country.
Let’s take a look at the most blatant case of cultural differences: the way the press reports about Maggie De Block’s politics. For some time, the French newspapers haven’t stopped criticising her actions. The daily newspapers don’t shy away from using titles such as “Feu à volonté sur Maggie De Block!” (“Maggie De Block under attack!”) in the newspapers of Sudpresse, “Maggie De Block, le rêve devenu cauchemar” (“Maggie De Block, the dream that has become a nightmare”), in La Dernière Heure and La Libre, “La rage des soignants contre De Block” (“The rage of the caregivers against De Block”) in L’Echo.
In Flanders, however, our Minister for Public Health has not been spared from frequent judgements, but the press is clearly more moderate. The Flemish media tend to speak about a malaise or they report about the widespread criticism at the other side of the country. This can be demonstrated by titles such as “Ministre sous le feu des critiques en Wallonie” (“Minister faces heavy criticism in Wallonia”) in Het Laatste Nieuws, or “Le malaise des masques buccaux de Maggie De Block” (“Maggie De Block’s face mask troubles”). In Flanders, the Health Minister’s catchphrase “Blijf in uw kot” (“Stay home”) has become particularly popular on social media such as YouTube and Tiktok.
Another striking difference between the north and the south of our country lies in the way they both report about the events in the neighbouring countries. The Flemish political decision makers tend to rely and concentrate on their own expertise and ideas. For a long time now, our northern neighbours are no source of inspiration anymore, even if Minister-President Jan Jambon says that we should take an example from “the North” more often. Flanders often compares itself to the Netherlands to reassure itself that they are doing a better job than they do. That way, Flanders doesn’t consider itself to be an outsider in comparison to our neighbours.
In French-speaking Belgium, every intervention of our Prime Minister is compared to the actions of the “Chef de Guerre” (“War chief”), who turns out to be none other than Emmanuel Macron. The press is always more than happy to highlight Sophie Wilmès’ Style, which is regarded as less austere and eventually also more “Belgian”. More than once the media compare the measures in Belgium to those adopted in France. The media often emphasise that the measures implemented by the government and our Prime Minister’s interventions often follow the French example. Would they be a source of inspiration?
Once more, Belgium proves that it’s capable of uniting its powers. However, it’s important for public affairs to keep in mind the cultural differences to be able to adapt to their interlocutor. Just like Belgians are not always fond of Macron’s style (and the other way around), professionals working in public affairs should adapt their approach to their target audience in order to achieve their goals. To truly have an impact amongst the public authorities and the stakeholders, companies have to know the interlocutor and their approach and messages. It is essential to measure the interests of every one of them, to be understanding and to come up with constructive solutions to the problems they face.
In this respect, a national one-size-fits-all approach is to be avoided. Even though it’s still possible to start from a common ground, the approach, the messages and the tone of voice should always be adapted to the region in question (Brussels, Flanders or Wallonia). Therefore, it is more important than ever that those who work on those files, display emotional intelligence and show understanding to ensure solid and relevant strategies and campaigns.