Skip to comments.Belgium to pull further apart after federal vote
Posted on 06/04/2007 2:27:11 PM PDT by knighthawk
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium's sharp divide between Flemings and Walloons is likely to widen but fall short of full separation after Sunday's general election given the likely next prime minister's remark about almost half the population.
"Apparently the francophones do not have the intellect to learn Dutch," Christian Democrat Yves Leterme told a French newspaper last August, to the consternation of the 40 percent of Belgians whose native language is French.
Leterme, premier of Dutch-speaking Flanders, is the frontrunner to succeed liberal Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt -- also a Fleming -- in an election likely to see Belgium's regions inch further apart.
"What we can expect under Leterme is an acceleration of the process of federalism. That's been his explicit promise and the reason he's willing to move to the federal government," said Carl Devos, political professor at Ghent University.
Leterme has softened his tone since last year's linguistic barb, made when he was seeking re-election as Flemish premier, but he remains firm in his view that more power should be shifted from federal to regional governments.
Three separate regional councils for Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels are already responsible for public works, traffic, housing, agriculture and the environment.
The three linguistic communities -- including the fewer than 1 percent of the population that speak German -- control education and culture.
The federal government remains in charge of fiscal, defence and foreign policy, as well as health, welfare and employment.
Political analysts believe a Leterme government would enable the regions to set up separate job creation schemes, allow them to vary taxes slightly and give them more control over health.
Academics say most federal models result from regions coming together. Those that pull apart typically end up separating. Some francophone parties raise this fear in their campaigns.
French-language broadcaster RTBF gave a jaw-dropping vision of the future to stunned viewers in December with "news" that the country was about to split. The king had left the country, it said, and crowds had erected barricades at the new borders.
The broadcast, which it eventually acknowledged was a spoof, was an attempt to stir debate about the nation's future.
In reality, few expect the 177-year-old country to split.
UNITED DESPITE SQUABBLES
Belgian squabbling can seem petty to outsiders. Francophones recount disdainful service if they use French in Flanders.
The Flemish, nearly 60 percent of the population, depict many Walloons as idle benefit-scroungers who make no effort to learn the majority tongue.
Francophone and Flemish newspapers could be reporting about different countries given the gulf in content.
As with ethnic divisions in other countries, strife has been festering for decades. The Belgian aristocracy spoke French and looked down on Dutch as a commoners' tongue. Dutch became an official language only in 1898.
Now the Flemish have the economic might, with technology, petrochemicals and car assembly plants and bustling ports. Wallonia has rusting relics from its coal and iron past.
Unemployment in French-speaking regions tops 17 percent. In Flanders it is near 6 percent.
Nevertheless, more than 80 percent of Belgians are broadly content with the current set-up and only 8 percent of Flemish people actually want independence, according to a recent survey.
"There's no real support for a break-up of Belgium. It's not like Scotland where a majority would probably be in favour," said Marc Swyngedouw, professor of politics at the Catholic University of Leuven.
The need to appease both French and Dutch speakers results in a heaving bureaucracy with no fewer than seven parliaments.
Belgian ministries typically have two teams of spokespeople to deal with issues in each language.
Supporters of the Belgian model say it may produce inefficiencies, but it has preserved the country from civil war that has scarred divided nations across the world.
Indeed, the Belgian model has proved a notable export success in the form of diplomatic and constitutional advice in conflict resolution in areas such as Cyprus and the Balkans.
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Fascinating. Although 1/4 Flemish, I do not feel I must lord it over those who can speak only French.
Once you have the “big brother” organization in place much of the reason for the nation goes away. EU nations make less sense with the EU there to provide the pan-European level of security and promote free trade, and even run foreign policy.
Same thing going on in Great Britan to some extent, and elsewhere in the Eurozone.
Expect to see more of this.
Then we’ll see nations like Catalonia, Basque, Wales, Scotland, Sicily, Bavaria, and many more to name.
Great to see you knighthawk. Thanks for the ping.
You are welcome.