The politicians in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, are unable to form a government coalition with sufficient support in both parts of the multinational country, i.e. in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north of the country, and Wallonia, the French-speaking south. They have asked the Belgian King Albert II to defuse the situation.
The Walloon politicians refuse to join a government led by Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christian-Democrats, who won the Belgian general elections last June 10th. All the major parties in Flanders are demanding greater autonomy for Flanders, the most capitalist-minded (and consequently most prosperous) part of the country, which has been funding the less affluent (because socialist-oriented) south since Belgium’s establishment in 1830-31.
Belgium is an artificial state of 10.5 million inhabitants, which prides itself on being the model for a federal Europe. The country was put together in 1830-31 by the international powers as a political compromise and an experiment in building one state out of two nationalities. It consists of 6 million Dutch-speakers in Flanders, its northern half that borders on the Netherlands, 3 million French-speakers in Wallonia, its southern half that borders on France, and 1 million people in its capital Brussels, which is also the capital of Flanders and of the European Union.
Brussels has a French-Dutch bilingual status. Many of its inhabitants are of North-African extraction. Brussels, which is historically a Dutch-speaking town and is an enclave within Flanders, was deliberately “frenchified” after the establishment of Belgium by the country’s ruling French-speaking elite. During the past decades, the Belgian regime has encouraged North African immigrants, who come from former French colonies, to apply for Belgian citizenship. This was done in an attempt to force the Flemings into an ever shrinking minority position in what used to be one of their most important towns. In 2001 (in an interview in the newspaper Le Matin) Claude Eerdekens, the Socialist chairman of the Naturalisation Commission of the Belgian House of Representatives, admitted that his commission was granting citizenship to foreigners without investigating the applicants’ backgrounds because most of the immigrants speak French rather than Dutch. “Our Commission does more for the frenchification of Brussels than the Flemings can ever do to prevent it,” Mr Eerdekens boasted.
The Francophone arrogance has backfired in a growing appeal of the Vlaams Belang (VB) party, Belgium’s most outspoken Flemish-secessionist and “Islamophobic” party and its only Eurosceptic party. Owing to the rising popularity of the VB, other Flemish parties have begun to take stronger pro-Flemish positions.
Last January, VB-leader Frank Vanhecke wrote
Belgium has corrupted Wallonia. 40% of the Walloons “work” as civil servants, compared to only 20% of the Flemings; 20% of the Walloons are unemployed, compared to only 8% of the Flemings. However, if the Walloons refuse to remedy this situation, if they refuse to pull their act together, if they keep voting for irresponsible and corrupt Socialist politicians who promise that everything will remain as it is, they themselves are asking for the end of Belgium. The Flemings have had enough.
Everyone in Flanders – not just “nationalist extremists” as the Walloon Socialists and the Belgian establishment say – has had enough. Recent polls revealed that more than 40% of the Flemish entrepreneurs and over half the Flemish population are in favour of Flemish independence. Those Flemings who do not aim (yet) for downright independence, want to reduce Belgium to a confederation of two almost independent states.
Every year 6.6% of Flanders’ GDP is spent on welfare in Wallonia. The money has not helped the Walloons but turned them into welfare addicts. Belgium is a case study of how socialist redistribution schemes lead to economic perversions.
Yves Leterme, the Christian-Democrat leader, who is the son of a Walloon father and a Flemish mother, caused a stir recently when he told the French newspaper Libération that Belgium is an “accident of history” which to him has no “intrinsic value.” He also criticized Belgian King Albert II for not being fluent in Dutch, the language of the majority of his people.
By refusing to join a government led by Mr Leterme, Flanders’ most popular politician, the Walloon politicians yesterday forced him to request the King, who is one of the leaders of the French-speaking establishment, to defuse the situation. This is perceived by many Flemings as a public humiliation of Mr Leterme.
Today, Flemish newspapers unanimously warn that the Walloons are playing a dangerous game. Last Wednesday Prof. Em. Robert Senelle, one of Belgium’s most prominent constitutionalists and formerly a teacher of the Belgian Crown Prince, advised the Flemings to annul the Belgian Constitution. Prof Senelle, a Flemish Socialist, said the Flemish regional parliament should solemnly declare Flemish sovereignty.
The unravelling of Belgium does not bode well for the European Union’s attempts to transform itself into a multinational state. Belgium is the EU’s model. As early as 1904 the Belgian ideologue Léon Hennebicq, a Brussels lawyer, wrote:
Have we [Belgium] not been called the laboratory of Europe? Indeed, we are a nation under construction. The problem of economic expansion is duplicated perfectly here by the problem of constructing a nationality. Two different languages, different classes without cohesion, a parochial mentality, an adherence to local communities that borders on the most harmful egotism, these are all elements of disunion. Luckily they can be reconciled. The solution is economic expansion, which can make us stronger by uniting us.”
His words foreshadowed the Europeanist project of the 1950s which aimed for political unification through economic integration. Two years ago Guy Verhofstadt, Belgium’s current (and maybe its last) Prime Minister called Belgium “the laboratory of European unification.”
Foreign politicians watch our country with particular interest because it can teach them something about the feasibility of the European project.
It seems that what Belgium can teach foreign politicians is the unfeasibility of the “European project.” Remarkably, the non-Belgian press has so far taken hardly any notice of the political problems in the EU’s host country and model. This is not the first major story that the mainstream media misses.
Meanwhile, anyone interested in the background to what is happening in Belgium, and the repercussions this could have for the EU, would do well to read my book “A Throne in Brussels.”