Belgians have been shocked by a poll this week that gave 43 per cent support in the Flemish north for secession. Even in the French-speaking southern half of Wallonia, which would have the most to lose economically by partition, one in five people believes that a break-up would be favourable. […] “Prepare for divorce,” announced the cover of Le Vif, an influential [Belgian] French-language weekly magazine, which spelt out the far-reaching costs for the impoverished region of Wallonia of splitting the health and social services, railways and the national debt.
The crisis arose from Belgium’s elections three months ago. The winner, Yves Leterme and his Flemish Christian Democrats, want greater autonomy for the regions, but they have not been able to find suitable coalition partners. […]
No major party is seeking a break-up openly. However, Gerard Deprez, a former Christian Democratic leader in Wallonia, voiced the feelings of many when he declared: “I do not want the end of Belgium, but I fear it will happen.” […] [T]he problem of what to do with the royals remains one of the main barriers to the break-up of the country.
Another is the future of Brussels. The Belgian capital is a bilingual oasis in Flanders and, despite being the seat of the Flemish parliament, has a largely Francophone population. Its role as home to the EU and Nato has led some to suggest that it should become a kind of Brussels DC for Europe. Proposals unveiled this week to consolidate the European Commission estate with an ambitious new building programme have added to suspicions that the capital’s authorities are preparing for such an eventuality.
Constitutionally a new election cannot be called until the next scheduled vote in 2011, and the Verhofstadt Government is unable to take major decisions of state — such as signing the new EU Reform Treaty with the other 26 European leaders, which is planned for December.
Talk of separation has ignited interest in France, where a columnist in the newspaper Le Figaro suggested that President Sarkozy should welcome Wallonia as a new province if wealthy Flanders broke away. France, however, has shown no interest in annexing a population of 4 million with 15 per cent unemployment.