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Culture clash may break up Belgium
financialtimes.com ^ | Sarah Laitner

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 country’s 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 Rompuy’s 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 Belgium’s 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.


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: belgium; benelux; dutch; eu; europe; europeanunion; flemish; french; rustleinbrussels; separatism

1 posted on 09/19/2007 10:21:57 AM PDT by Republicain
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To: Republicain

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.


2 posted on 09/19/2007 10:26:45 AM PDT by Dutchguy
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To: Republicain
Balkinization. It's the wave of the future... catch it.

This promotional add brought to by the committee for open borders and your friend at the U.N. Si, yo hablo espanol.

3 posted on 09/19/2007 10:26:56 AM PDT by DoughtyOne (Sorry Hillderella, but the Hsu fits...)
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To: Republicain
I thought they already had broken up, both of them.
4 posted on 09/19/2007 10:27:48 AM PDT by Cletus.D.Yokel
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To: DoughtyOne

Somtimes when I catch a cold I get a Flemish build up in my throat. ;-)


5 posted on 09/19/2007 10:29:32 AM PDT by DirtyPigpen
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To: Republicain

Diversity is there strenghth? Bilingualism fails again!


6 posted on 09/19/2007 10:33:07 AM PDT by MSF BU
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To: Republicain
Parts of it were up for sale on EBay a few days ago ... until it was taken down!LOL

Someone there did not like what was happening in some sections of his country!

7 posted on 09/19/2007 10:33:22 AM PDT by Red_Devil 232 (VietVet - USMC All Ready On The Right? All Ready On The Left? All Ready On The Firing Line!)
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To: DirtyPigpen

There you go... see!


8 posted on 09/19/2007 10:34:17 AM PDT by DoughtyOne (Sorry Hillderella, but the Hsu fits...)
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To: Republicain

I’d guess that Brussels is to blame.


9 posted on 09/19/2007 10:38:28 AM PDT by Paladin2 (I don't fix the problems, I only fix the blame.)
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To: Republicain

“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.


10 posted on 09/19/2007 10:40:20 AM PDT by edcoil (Reality doesn't say much - doesn't need too)
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To: Republicain

Belgium, Canada.. what is it with these Frenchies?


11 posted on 09/19/2007 10:48:34 AM PDT by mikeus_maximus (CAIR delende est.)
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To: Republicain

Belgium, Canada.. what is it with these Frenchies?


12 posted on 09/19/2007 10:48:40 AM PDT by mikeus_maximus (CAIR delende est.)
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To: Cletus.D.Yokel
LOL

Well, it could be said that the culture of Boy George and the politics of Joe Strummer would be the envy of today's EU ruling class.
13 posted on 09/19/2007 10:52:23 AM PDT by bagadonutz (The road goes on forever and the party never ends! - R E Keene)
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Comment #14 Removed by Moderator

To: Paladin2
"I'd guess that Brussels is to blame."

Dude...how can ya NOT blame them; just look at their legacy!


15 posted on 09/19/2007 10:58:12 AM PDT by Cletus.D.Yokel
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To: Republicain; MoochPooch; Michael81Dus; Vicomte13; az_gila; Experiment 6-2-6; henkster; ...

Europe pinglist ping.


16 posted on 09/19/2007 11:41:10 AM PDT by Jedi Master Pikachu ( What is your take on Acts 15:20 (abstaining from blood) about eating meat? Could you freepmail?)
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To: DoughtyOne

Coming soon to a country near you!


17 posted on 09/19/2007 11:43:43 AM PDT by Altura Ct.
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To: Republicain

Well now, the result of last week’s 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 ‘let’s not call them anything, let’s iust ignore them’ ... and a Mr St John of Hurtfingdou said he couldn’t 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.”


18 posted on 09/19/2007 11:44:34 AM PDT by dfwgator (The University of Florida - Still Championship U)
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To: mikeus_maximus

In Belgium, the Flemish (not the Walloons) are the people pushing for independence.


19 posted on 09/19/2007 11:47:14 AM PDT by Jedi Master Pikachu ( What is your take on Acts 15:20 (abstaining from blood) about eating meat? Could you freepmail?)
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To: Cletus.D.Yokel

But they also gave the world French fries.


20 posted on 09/19/2007 11:48:08 AM PDT by Jedi Master Pikachu ( What is your take on Acts 15:20 (abstaining from blood) about eating meat? Could you freepmail?)
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To: Altura Ct.

Could you please clarify? Was that country or county?


21 posted on 09/19/2007 11:48:59 AM PDT by DoughtyOne (Sorry Hillderella, but the Hsu fits... and king Lerach would like a call. < wicked witch laughter >)
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To: Cletus.D.Yokel

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-630703125726810554


22 posted on 09/19/2007 11:49:48 AM PDT by PatriotCJC (Keep your powder dry!)
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To: DoughtyOne

Country as in the USA.


23 posted on 09/19/2007 11:52:00 AM PDT by Altura Ct.
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To: Cletus.D.Yokel

It’s not just the young ones. (Please don’t make me explain this comment ;-))


24 posted on 09/19/2007 11:52:46 AM PDT by Paladin2 (I don't fix the problems, I only fix the blame.)
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To: Altura Ct.

Just teasing, because county is so much more personal. When it happens in your neighborhood, it’s real.


25 posted on 09/19/2007 11:55:43 AM PDT by DoughtyOne (Sorry Hillderella, but the Hsu fits... and king Lerach would like a call. < wicked witch laughter >)
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To: Jedi Master Pikachu
But they also gave the world French fries.

For shame, it's pomme frites.

26 posted on 09/19/2007 11:56:38 AM PDT by patj
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To: mikeus_maximus
Belgium, Canada.. what is it with these Frenchies?

Fractured multilingual cultures....coming soon to a country near you!

27 posted on 09/19/2007 12:06:02 PM PDT by SergeiRachmaninov
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To: Altura Ct.

(Didn’t mean to crib your line...GMTA.)


28 posted on 09/19/2007 12:08:26 PM PDT by SergeiRachmaninov
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To: DoughtyOne

I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes. :)


29 posted on 09/19/2007 12:19:32 PM PDT by Altura Ct.
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To: SergeiRachmaninov

...GMTA

Indeed!


30 posted on 09/19/2007 12:20:11 PM PDT by Altura Ct.
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To: Altura Ct.

Oh not at all... you’re fine. We agree. You take care.


31 posted on 09/19/2007 12:21:56 PM PDT by DoughtyOne (Sorry Hillderella, but the Hsu fits... and king Lerach would like a call. < wicked witch laughter >)
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To: Republicain
Belgium never made much sense to me as nation-state. Belgium and the Netherlands were cobbled together during the Middle Ages and then fell into lap of the Hapsburgs, who through incompetent, heavy-handed government ignited a revolt by the Dutch. Belgium is just the bit the Hapsburgs managed to hold onto after the Dutch revolt.
32 posted on 09/19/2007 12:30:18 PM PDT by colorado tanker (I'm unmoderated - just ask Bill O'Reilly)
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To: mikeus_maximus
Belgium, Canada.. what is it with these Frenchies?

It seems that wherever the French have been, they've left a mess of some sort. (e.g. Quebec, Vietnam, Haiti, Mexico, France, etc.)

33 posted on 09/19/2007 12:44:25 PM PDT by rllngrk33 (The RATs and Media are the enemy.)
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To: colorado tanker
After the Napoleonic wars, Belgium was given to the Netherlands to try to create a stronger country on France's border, but within 15 years the Belgians became so dissatisfied that they rebelled against Dutch rule and managed to become an independent country.

The most famous Belgian was Hercule Poirot, and he never really existed...just a figment of Agatha Christie's imagination. The famous historian Henri Pirenne (1862-1935) was Belgian. Other than that they've given the world Belgian waffles, Belgian endive, and Brussels sprouts.

34 posted on 09/19/2007 12:51:24 PM PDT by Verginius Rufus
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To: Jedi Master Pikachu
“But they also gave the world French fries.”

..but ruin them by eating them with mayonnaise, so what do they know?

35 posted on 09/19/2007 12:57:11 PM PDT by monday
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To: monday; patj

They eat them with mayonnaise? That does seem disgusting.


36 posted on 09/19/2007 1:12:46 PM PDT by Jedi Master Pikachu ( What is your take on Acts 15:20 (abstaining from blood) about eating meat? Could you freepmail?)
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To: Verginius Rufus
Belgian waffles, Belgian endive, and Brussels sprouts

I like all three!

37 posted on 09/19/2007 1:13:14 PM PDT by colorado tanker (I'm unmoderated - just ask Bill O'Reilly)
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To: Republicain
Breaking up isn’t always a bad thing: the Czechs and Slovaks had a pretty amicable divorce.
38 posted on 09/19/2007 1:27:12 PM PDT by Heatseeker
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To: Republicain
All these words about the troubles in Belgium and not a word about their large and growing Muslim population?

The threat isn't balkanization. The threat is Sharia!

39 posted on 09/19/2007 1:55:31 PM PDT by Gritty (The Bosnian demographic profile is the European profile of the future - Mark Steyn)
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To: Republicain

I don’t believe Belgium exists. I know I’ve seen proof of that somewhere on the net...


40 posted on 09/19/2007 1:59:06 PM PDT by steveyp
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To: Heatseeker

I guess the Slovaks didn’t accept Czechs.

(Thank you, I’ll be here until Thursday, please make sure to tip your waitresses)


41 posted on 09/19/2007 1:59:27 PM PDT by dfwgator (The University of Florida - Still Championship U)
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To: DirtyPigpen
Q: What's green and skates on ice?

A: Peggy Phlegm!

42 posted on 09/19/2007 2:02:37 PM PDT by -=SoylentSquirrel=-
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To: Republicain

LET US PRAY that this breakup will occur. I have good freinds in Antwerp and Brugge, and they are disgusted by the French South. Plus most of the growth of the nation comes from the Flemish North. And they are VERY Conservative and hostile to Islam.


43 posted on 09/19/2007 2:19:05 PM PDT by montag813
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To: Republicain

The best result would be to let them break apart, the Dutch north could merge with the dutch Netherlands, and the south could merge with Luxembourg. Problem solved


44 posted on 09/19/2007 2:27:05 PM PDT by ulm1 (“There are scandals that need to be addressed. Republicans address them, Democrats re-elect them.”)
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To: Republicain
Culture clash may break up Belgium

And nobody will notice.
Or care.

Alors!
Les Belges!

45 posted on 09/19/2007 5:09:48 PM PDT by Publius6961 (MSM: Israelis are killed by rockets; Lebanese are killed by Israelis.)
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