What holds Belgium together?

July 16, 2008

Belgian Prime Minister Yves LetermeIs there anything more holding Belgium together than “the king, the football team and certain beers”–  as Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme once said?Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia have their own political parties and their own television stations and newspapers which on any normal day could be reporting on totally separate countries.Tuesday was not one of those such days. Following Leterme’s decision to quit on Monday night, Belgium’s media at least agreed on the top story, even if few could answer the question: what next? The days ahead are likely to lead to growing debate over a central Belgian question: is it worth staying together?Belgium has evolved since 1970 from a unitary state to a federation in five phases of devolution giving regional and linguistic parliaments control over education, culture,transport and housing.The Flemish majority want more, from powers to set their own job creation schemes and to vary rates of tax. French-speakers fear that Belgium will be nothing more than an empty shell and the economic divide between rich Flemish north and their depressed south will widen.Leterme’s Flemish Christian Democrats had promised change, but his failure to broker a deal led to his resignation. Opinion polls are notoriously volatile, but a recent poll of Flemings found that more than 49 percent would welcome the country splitting in two.Even many Flemish who want a united Belgium struggle to say why, often citing the enormous headache that division would cause — how would the national debt be split and what would happen to Brussels, the largely French-speaking capital withinFlanders?During the last political crisis, less than a year ago, the capital Brussels saw a burst of colour as patriotic Belgians hung the national flag from their windows and balconies.French-speakers are mindful of the economic impact of losing their richer northern neighbours, but they too are losing patience.The demands of the two communities could simply be incompatible and the question remains — is Belgium ungovernable and incapable of reform?   

3 comments

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I think that if the two communities are so incompatible and would prefer to distance themselves then they should be able to do so, but only if they feel strongly about it. Before making a decision, I think that as a whole they should look at the benefits and the things that could hinder their communties. You ask if Belgium is ungovernable and incapable of reform, well I think that any country can be reformed it just takes hard work and dedication.

Posted by Treneisha P. | Report as abusive

[...] What holds Belgium together? Philip Blenkinsop, Global News Blog/Reuters [...]

If both parties feel that they can not live together anymore, so they should separate amicably, ie: Czech Republic and Slovakia, and divide the national debt in equal amounts.One possible scenario could see the incorporation of Wallonia into France and Flanders into Holland, if so decided by democratic referendums. In the same scenario, Brussels could be directly administered by the EU, avoiding any tensions over it.If both or one party prefers to go by the independence road, there is nothing in principle against that idea.There will always be people opposed to one or other idea, as long as the majority expresses their wish peacefully and democratically, the result should be respected and a workable solution applied.

Posted by David C. | Report as abusive

The short answer is: Brussels. As long as neither side is willing to give up Brussels, Belgium can’t be split.The long answer is that we are facing a pseudo crisis and some ‘creative’ political manouvering.Belgium can only be gouverned if both sides are willing to compromise.Yet as it stands now, if any party at this point does make any compromises, they fear to loose the regional elections in 2009 big time. In light of that, it is actually a lot easier to leave the country in a state of crisis rather then to actually rule it. Imagine a country were every single party is in the opposition and you pretty much have Belgium.My guess is that this spectacle will probably continue for another year, and as long as the general public isn’t really affected by it, nobody will actually care to put a stop to it.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive