Skip to comments.Culture clash may break up Belgium
Posted on 09/19/2007 10:21:54 AM PDT by Republicain
Belgium, it is business as usual. Trains run, the prime minister greets visiting foreign leaders, social security benefits are paid and the countrys famed bureaucracy functions unabated.
If everything seems normal, it is bar one glitch. Belgium has no new government, 101 days after a general election.
Since it won independence in 1830, the country has had trouble keeping itself together. Now, concerns are growing that the Franco-phone Walloons of the south and the Dutch-speaking Flemings in the north will finally split. While Belgium bears few visible scars of political impasse, disagreements over state reform have left negotiators unable to form a centre-right governing coalition since the election on June 10.
This week, Herman Van Rompuy, the Flemish Christian Democrat acting as mediator between the bickering parties, presented his report to King Albert II.
Mr Van Rompuys action came as a poll suggested that two-thirds of people in Dutch-speaking Flanders thought that Belgium would sooner or later split, and nearly half wanted a division. So could Belgium break up, and are tensions worse than ever?
More and more people are openly discussing separation, Caroline Sägesser, of Crisp, a Brussels-based think-tank, says. This is partly because the political negotiations are going on away from the public eye and people can only speculate on what is happening.
She adds: But the obstacles to a split such as intertwined economies, how to divide the high national debt, and the status of Brussels remain strong.
The relationship between Walloons and Flemings has been described as that of step-siblings, with ties too strong to break. But tensions have grown. A television hoax show last year on public broadcaster RTBF caused panic by claiming Flanders had declared independence.
Flemish nationalism has surged in recent years with Flanders emergence as the economic powerhouse, and the region home to the majority of Belgiums 10.4m population props up ailing Wallonia with handouts.
Yves Leterme, a Flemish Christian Democrat, triumphed in his region in the election with a call for more self-rule. He infuriated Walloons by declaring them either unwilling or too stupid to learn Dutch, and many fear he is uninterested in Belgian unity. Mr Let-erme was tipped to become national premier, with the country voting along language lines and Walloons unable to block him.
But he failed to reconcile the views of Christian Democrats from Wallonia and Flanders, the Dutch-language Liberals, their French-speaking counterparts and the Flemish nationalists, and coalition talks collapsed.
Belgium has faced political impasse before. In 1988, it took 148 days to agree on a government. Is it different this time? Stefaan Walgrave, professor of political science at the University of Antwerp, says: It is not the duration [of the talks] that is worrisome. It seems as if there is no progress. After 100 days there is not an embryo of an agreement.
Wilfried Martens, a former prime minister, says differences this time include the fact that northern and southern politicians lack the informal contacts of the past and no longer have similar goals.
At the heart of the dispute are the voting rights of French-speakers in the Flemish-dominated outskirts of Brussels, and the broader question of whether to devolve more power such as employment policy to the regions.
Belgium has zealously rolled back the federal state, but Wallonia, where unemployment is sharply higher than in Flanders, is wary of further devolution.
For the present, Guy Verhofstadt, Liberal premier, remains in office. Many services such as education, housing, agriculture covered by regional administrations and the federal government continue to function.
But with a new budget needed and parliament due to return from recess next month, pressure is mounting for a coalition-building deal.
Mr Martens says: We are the centre of the European Union. How could we give such a bad example to all the member states if we were to split?
A history of two halves
The majority of Belgians live in Dutch-speaking Flanders. The northern region has a population of 6m, against about 3.4m in Wallonia, the poorer, Francophone south. Parties from both must be represented in the federal government. Brussels is officially a bilingual region. However, most of its 1m inhabitants are French- speaking. A small, German-language community exists in the east.
Belgium enacted constitutional changes in 1993 that brought a transformation from a highly centralised state to one with three levels of government: federal, regional and linguistic community.
Federal elections took place on June 10. In Flanders, the Christian Democrats took 30 of the 150 seats in the national chamber of representatives.
In Wallonia, the MR Liberals won 23 seats.
I’m not so sure Belgium will actually split up in the very near future (coming months). It’s a deep crisis, and not one easily resolved soon. But an eventual break-up isn’t an easy way out of the crisis: it poses all kinds of new problems.
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Somtimes when I catch a cold I get a Flemish build up in my throat. ;-)
Diversity is there strenghth? Bilingualism fails again!
Someone there did not like what was happening in some sections of his country!
There you go... see!
I’d guess that Brussels is to blame.
“Belgium has no new government, 101 days after a general election.”
Based on what is going on around the world and how bad a job every government is doing - Belgium should be happy.
Belgium, Canada.. what is it with these Frenchies?
Belgium, Canada.. what is it with these Frenchies?
Dude...how can ya NOT blame them; just look at their legacy!
Europe pinglist ping.
Coming soon to a country near you!
Well now, the result of last weeks competition when we asked you to find a derogatory term for the Belgians. Well, the response was enormous and we took quite a long time sorting out the winners. There were some very clever entries. Mrs Hatred of Leicester Said lets not call them anything, lets iust ignore them ... and a Mr St John of Hurtfingdou said he couldnt think of anything more derogatory than Belgias. But in the end we settled on three choices: number three ... The Sprouts, sent in by Mrs Vicious of Hastings... very nice ; number two..... The Phlegms, from Mrs Childmolester of Worthing; but the winner was undoubtedly from Mrs No-Supper-For-You from Norwood in Lancashire ... Miserable Fat Belgian Bastards.
In Belgium, the Flemish (not the Walloons) are the people pushing for independence.
But they also gave the world French fries.