Skip to comments.Review of “A Throne in Brussels” by Dr. Paul Belien
Posted on 06/04/2005 12:37:45 PM PDT by MadIvan
We live in a time of reassessment and reappraisal of the European project; the defeat of ratification of the EU Constitution in both France and the Netherlands has left the bureaucracy in Brussels dazed and confused. Worse, the Brussels establishment is now suffering from cognitive dissonance, as their continued call for ratification votes in the countries that have not yet voted on it shows.
People searching for an explanation as to why the EU behaves as it does, namely, in such a bureaucratic, statist and anti-democratic fashion, will find Paul Beliens new book "A Throne in Brussels: Britain, the Saxe-Coburgs and the Belgianisation of Europe" a timely contribution.
The book is ostensibly a history of Belgium, which is divided into chapters based upon the reigns of its 6 kings. However the author is not shy about drawing parallels between Belgiums failed system of government and EU institutions.
Belgium, Dr. Belien argues, is an artificial creation, a compromise that came out of unrest in what was once the United Netherlands in 1830. The French-speaking Walloon minority of Belgium originally wanted to join France. The Dutch speaking Flemish majority of Belgium did not want to leave union with the Netherlands in the first place. The formation of the country was solely due to it being the least offensive solution to both the people of Belgium and the great powers which had a say in the matter. A king, Leopold of the Saxe-Coburg dynasty, was imported to provide further solidity to its structure.
Dr. Belien is unsparing in his description of Leopold and his heirs the Saxe-Coburgs come across (with few exceptions) as oversexed, miserly, lacking in human feeling. Yet, somehow, this peculiar family has managed to create a structure in which they not only perpetuate a reign over a country which only exists as a political, rather than a genuine national entity, but also make a lot of money doing it.
How does one create a country from two groups as dissimilar as the Flemish and Walloons? Leopold I appealed to the Catholic faith of his subjects. Leopold II tried to appeal to jingoistic pride; while his primary purpose in securing the Congo for Belgium was to build an empire (and make a lot of money), he hoped that the pride of having overseas possessions would act as a unifying agent. However the ultimate answer was a combination of royal prerogatives and bribery.
The Belgian people were bribed with a great deal of money, in terms of welfare benefits. Much of the cash has been transferred from the Flemish to the Walloons: Dr. Belien recites figures which show that the economically productive Flemish have effectively been subsidising their French-speaking neighbours for decades. One figure is telling: at the time of publication, he points out that unemployment in the Flemish part of Belgium is approximately 6%. In the Walloon area, it is 16%.
Royal prerogatives have been a more insidious method of maintaining the Belgian state. Albert I influenced politics to such an extent that he was able to set up their present electoral system, based on proportional representation. Because of the nature of having governments comprised entirely of weak coalitions, a system which was buttressed by powerful trade unions, paralysis became the order of the day. The monarchy is also well positioned by this system to appear to be the defender of the people by criticising these sclerotic governments.
The sclerosis meant that the bribery of the welfare state could not be stopped Belgiums national debt ballooned to 138% of GDP during the 1990s. Sclerosis meant that effective action against corruption could not be taken: Dr. Belien details the corruption of a number of Belgian politicians and has some evidence regarding the present King of Belgium being involved in sexual scandals in the past. The sclerosis was so bad in fact that a mass murderer and rapist of children, Marc Dutroux was only lightly harried by law enforcement until both the Walloon and Flemish communities, en masse, cried a halt. The sclerosis remains so bad that to this day, Belgium remains a hotbed of radical Islamic fundamentalism, and the politicians remain paralysed.
The only time the system shows any imagination or flexibility is when it has to deal with those who want to dissolve Belgium; as the book painfully shows, any group that shows inclinations towards Flemish independence has a propensity to come to a sticky end. Most recently, the Flemish nationalist party, Vlaams Blok, was banned altogether.
The only people who have benefited from Belgium, as Dr. Belien shows, is the royal family, and their acolytes, who continue to make money out of the Belgian state. King Leopold II was given loans to build up his Congo colony, paid to sell it to the Belgian state, and did not have to pay the liabilities associated with the Congo in the handover. The royal family held shares in enterprises which were sold to the state when they got into financial trouble.
This catalogue of nightmarish proportions is brought home by Dr. Beliens suggestion that rather than Belgium becoming more European as the European Union has strengthened, rather, the European Union is becoming more Belgian. The pattern is there: a state is being constructed with limited democratic credentials, no basis in actual national feeling (which Dr. Belien states, leads to it having no moral credentials), and is operating on the basis of bribery, namely in the form of subsidies. He suggests that the only thing it lacks is a monarch of the Saxe-Coburgs dubious repute to hold it together. He also suggests that the productive nations of the EU, namely Britain, will suffer the fate of Flanders: namely that of being the cash cow, should further European integration succeed.
Overall, this is an important, relevant, well-researched and an extremely readable book which should be paid attention to by the citizens of EU member states, and those wishing to understand how such a monstrosity came into being. It also provides a frame of reference for those insane EU bureaucrats who continue to insist that ratification votes must continue for a treaty which the people have made clear that they do not want. As Dr. Belien would likely tell us, riding roughshod over the actual, expressed aspirations of the people has been standard procedure in Brussels since Leopold I swept into town, and will likely continue until such time as the bureaucrats of the EU, and perhaps the Saxe-Coburgs are finally forced to pack their bags.
"Heart of Darkness" is based on Leopold's Belgian Congo.
More recently, there were the child sex murders of Marc Dutroux, which were covered up for years by the Belgian authorities. Probably a lot of Belgian politicians were involved with Dutroux's activities, participating in some sort of child sex ring. It's hard to find any other explanation for why the case was handled the way it was.
People should also read Adam Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost" regarding what happened in the Belgian Congo.
Dr. Belien does go into painful detail about the Dutroux case in the book - it's ghastly.
If it's a duck......
Europes main problem is aristocracy and a feudalistic sentiment amongst its citizenry. Nothing will come of such a system except to MAINTAIN what exists. If Bill Gates were born in Europe, he would have to open a bar or restaurant to survive.
Sounds like liberal politicians to me. Get involved in government and make yourself a lot of money.
Wow. So this is the precedent, eh?
Yes, that's why the book is timely and frightening. I'm pretty horrified by the example it provides.
bump later read
Going on my reading list.
EU High Commissioner for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana:
Russia, EU should respect ex-Soviet republic's interests
10 May 2005. Russia and the EU should respect not only each other's interests, but also the interests of each other's neighbors, including the former Soviet republics, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said in an interview with Interfax on Tuesday, when asked whether the EU recognizes Russia's leading role in the post-Soviet space.
The EU and Russia have good, deep relations and they have the opportunity to address the new situation on the European continent, especially after EU enlargement, Solana said.
Touching on the EU's position on resolving the so-called frozen conflicts in Transdniestria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, Solana said Russia, the European Union, and the OSCE have commitments on these issues, and it would be much easier to find a solution to these conflicts together.
Solana has denied allegations made by a number of analysts that one of the terms for Ukraine to join the EU is its withdrawal from agreements on building a Common Economic Space with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
He said these allegations are absolutely wrong, and the Ukrainian people are entitled to decide their foreign political preferences and choose which associations to join on their own.
Ukraine has good relations with both Russia and the EU, and it is an important neighbor for both, Solana said.
However, Ukraine's accession to the EU is not a matter of the near future, Solana said. The EU and Ukraine recently launched a neighborhood cooperation mechanism, and they need to see how it will work, he said.
The European Union is not considering sending any troops to the Russian-Georgian border or to any other country, Solana told Interfax.
However, the EU is willing to give the Georgian leadership advice and train Georgian police, security forces and border guards to enable them, among other things, to counter terrorist threats effectively, Solana said.
The European Union will keep weapons exports to China under strict control if it lifts its 16-year-old embargo on arms sales to the Asian country, Solana said.
He told that lifting the embargo would not lead to any quantitative or qualitative increase in EU weapons sales to China from the pre-embargo level.
He said the EU had sought to normalize its relations with China because the latter is a large and powerful country.
Solana also said the EU had taken into account Japanese and U.S. objections to the EU lifting its arms embargo against China.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will take up the Iranian nuclear program if Tehran refuses to hold more talks on it with Britain, France and Germany, Solana said also.
Solana expressed fears that terrorists could get hold of nuclear weapons that Iran may develop. At the same time, he said the EU is willing to cooperate with Iran in the civilian use of nuclear energy.
Thanks for the ping!
I don't get it. Queen Elizabeth II is a Saxe-Coburg. The British branch of the family changed its name during World War I. And, well, if the Saxe-Coburgs couldn't manage to bring Europe together economically and politically during the 1800's when they not only sat on the throne of the Belgians, but Great Britain, Portugal, Bulgaria, their own duchy, etc., it's pretty silly to think this EU thing would work any better.
I guess I'll have to read the book to see if Dr. Belien rehashed old gossip or found some new dirt on King Leopold I.
I think you have to be careful...there is a difference between the Saxe-Coburgs and Saxe-Coburg-Gothas, which are an offshoot, and that is where the present British Royal Family comes from.
Thanks for the ping. I'll go online to see if our library can order it as I'm pretty sure they don't have it in stock right now.
Great article. Whenever I hear some Belgian politician condemning Israel or threatening to put Ariel Sharon on trial I recall the Belgian "colonization" of the Congo, possibly the greatest act of genocide prior to the 20th century. Such moralizing hypocrisy.
"The pattern is there: a state is being constructed with limited democratic credentials, no basis in actual national feeling (which Dr. Belien states, leads to it having no moral credentials), and is operating on the basis of bribery, namely in the form of subsidies. He suggests that the only thing it lacks is a monarch of the Saxe-Coburgs dubious repute to hold it together. He also suggests that the productive nations of the EU, namely Britain, will suffer the fate of Flanders: namely that of being the cash cow, should further European integration succeed."