Sunday, August 26, 2007

Belgium Breaking Up?

Belgium's caught in a catch-22 Constitutional crisis, though it hasn't much been in the news. Will Flemish secession be the only solution?

It bodes ill for the seat and multicultural symbol of the EU!

After Belgium: Will Flanders and the Netherlands Reunite?

Belgium is rapidly unraveling. Following the June 10th Belgian general elections, won by Flemish-secessionist parties, the Belgian parties seem unable to form a government coalition.

Belgium is a multinational state, the model for the European Union’s efforts to turn Europe into a single multinational state. Belgium is made up of 60% Dutch-speaking, free-market oriented Flemings and 40% French-speaking, predominantly Socialist Walloons. The Belgian Constitution stipulates that the government should consist of 50% Flemings and 50% Walloons. Belgian governments always have to rely on a majority in both Flanders and Wallonia, since major decisions need the support of both parts of the country. In practice this means that 20% of the population (i.e. half of the Walloons) can veto every decision. This has made the Parti Socialiste (PS), the Walloon Socialist Party, the power broker in the country.

The refusal of the PS to reform the welfare state system has caused growing Flemish frustration, and turned what used to be a linguistic conflict into a dispute about economic and welfare policies. While Flanders pays most of Belgium’s taxes the bulk of the money flows to Wallonia. There a welfare-receiving electorate votes for parties which for over three decades have been blocking any attempts at reforming the collapsing welfare system.

Since the 1970s Flemish parties have radicalized, demanding larger autonomy over welfare issues. Apart from welfare reform the next Belgian government also has to reach an agreement over Brussels. The city, which is historically Dutch, is a bilingual enclave surrounded by the Halle-Vilvoorde district of the Flemish province of Brabant. At present Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) is one large, single electoral constituency. Flanders wants to assume full autonomy over Halle and Vilvoorde, and demands that these two Flemish towns and the surrounding Flemish villages are split off from bilingual Brussels. This is also being vetoed by the Walloon parties, although four years ago the Constitutional Court of Belgium, with 50% French-speaking judges, ruled that the present situation is unconstitutional and that BHV should be split by July 2007.

The Belgian politicians are unable to solve the BHV problem, and any new elections are unconstitutional as long as the BHV constituency has not been divided into one bilingual constituency Brussels and one Flemish constituency Halle-Vilvoorde. Politically Belgium is now in a catch-22 situation: The Belgian parties are unable to form a government because they cannot agree about splitting up BHV and new elections cannot be held as long as BHV has not been split up.

Last week, Prof. Em. Robert Senelle, one of Belgium’s most prominent constitutionalists, a Flemish Socialist and formerly a teacher of the Belgian Crown Prince, advised the Flemings to annul the Belgian Constitution and solemnly declare Flemish sovereignty. Following this advice Filip Dewinter, the leader of the secessionist Vlaams Belang party, the largest party in the Flemish Regional Parliament, called upon the Flemish Parliament to convene and declare Flanders an independent country.
Apart from the media in Belgium and the neighbouring Netherlands, the international papers and broadcasters have hardly reported about the disintegration of the EU’s host country. On Tuesday a survey of the Dutch [Netherlandish] television network RTL4 showed that 77% of the inhabitants of the Netherlands are in favour of the Netherlands and Flanders merging into one country.

In Belgium, an internet poll of Flanders’ largest newspaper, Het Laatste Nieuws, showed 50.9% in favour of reuniting Flanders and the Netherlands. The Flemish provinces were part of the Netherlands until 1831, when the international powers established the Kingdom of Belgium.
And what of the Walloons? Will they join France?


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