Werchter Chief Stays Patient

Rock Werchter chief Herman Schueremans’ bid to convince the Belgian government to outlaw touts has now been stalled six months – because that’s how long it’s been since the country last had a government.

Schueremans, who is head of Live Nation’s Belgian office and also a member of the Flemish parliament, hoped his bill would be read in the national assembly in the spring. His bill would, among other things, prohibit tickets from being sold for more than 10 percent over face value.

But by April there was clearly tension among members of the ruling five-party coalition led by Flemish Christian Democrat prime minister Yves Leterme. It collapsed when the various factions fell out over an old and bitter constitutional matter regarding voting rights in Brussels and the surrounding urban sprawl.

The country’s political system insists on votes being cast purely on linguistic lines. The electorate can’t vote for a French-speaking party in Flanders and – vice versa – it can’t elect a Dutch-speaking party in the French region. Brussels, the capital, is bilingual and so it’s a constitutional exception.

The problem is 35 of the municipalities on the outskirts of Brussels are Flemish, but increasingly populated by French-speakers moving out of the city centre.

The thought of the French-speakers outnumbering the Dutch-speakers in traditionally Flemish areas has caused a political deadlock.

The dispute became so bitter that some UK papers including the Guardian speculated it may even lead to the breakup of the country.

For Belgium, this isn’t as much of a problem as an outsider might think – unless you’re trying to get a bill read in parliament.

The country’s spent half its time without a government in the last three or four years and has become well-practised at working in what may appear to be the proverbial headless chicken mode.

Schueremans, who picked up three gongs at this year’s European Festival Awards and currently has Rock Werchter nominated for Pollstar’s International Festival Of The Year title, shrugs it off and says Belgians just carry on working hard and trying to be creative.

Until a new government is formed the old one remains active, but with such reduced power that it actually produces an economic benefit. Each month it can spend only one-twelfth of the previous year’s annual budget, which could produce savings of as much as euro 500 million ($685 million) over the course of the year.

“At least it means they can’t waste even more money on bureaucracy,” Schueremans observed.

As for his anti-tout bill, which would also prohibit the resale of tickets until the initial vendor has gone on sale, making it impossible for touts to legally advertise tickets before possessing them, he’s prepared to continue to be patient.

Schueremans’ measures to nail the touts has such wide cross-party support that it should still appear to have a very good chance of getting parliamentary approval – whatever the makeup of the next Belgian government and whenever it’s formed.