There is a some parallel that can be drawn between the current dispute on the .EH TLD for Western Sahara and the .VL application. In both cases, the process is being used for political purposes to serve a goal for autonomy or independence. I am not taking sides on the .EH issue, as I do not feel I have enough information to have a meaningful opinion. On .VL however, I think that the 20+ years I spent in Flanders can give me enough background.
In the case of the .VL, there is a public image, posted in English on the ICANN web site, and a quite different one posted in Dutch on the proponents web sites. Some translated extracts, for the benefit of those who do not understand Dutch:
Why a .VL, according their web site:
It is all about being recognized, mostly by the international community. Flanders does have foreign affairs responsibilities, but try to explain simply to Israël that Belgium is made of regions and communities and that you are the Minister of foreign affairs for Flanders and not for Belgium. A specific TLD would enhance the visibility of Flanders in the world, and this can only be positive.
It is clear here that this is about political visibility and not about spreading a culture, like .CAT does. Indeed, this is well in line with the political agenda of the proponents, the Jonge Vlamingen group, which states on their web site (potentially racist humor deleted from the text):
Jonge Vlamingen wishes to promote the separation of Flanders (ed: from Belgium)… We want to build a network where young Flemings who choose for Flemish independence can meet.
As has been explained in a previous post on the subject, other organizations supporting the project have a similar agenda.
My advice to the ICANN community, should this proposal be formalized, is to be aware of the fact they would actually be used to serve a political agenda, rather than a cultural one. The issue of regional autonomy (and now independence) has been on the Belgian political agenda for nearly a century. This is a very sensitive and complicated matter. ICANN would be well inspired not to join the mess.