Today, day 119 since the general elections of June 10th, Belgium still has no government. Belgium’s politicians, however, expect the country to have a new government soon. Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christian-Democrats, who last week was reappointed as “formateur” (Prime Minister Designate) by Belgium’s King Albert II, knows that he has no choice but to succeed in forming a government. If he does not, his political career is over. Mr Leterme, who won last June’s elections on a pro-Flemish platform, will have to withdraw all the Flemish demands because the Walloon politicians have vetoed them all.
Belgium consists of 6 million Dutch-speakers in Flanders (its northern half), 3 million French-speakers in Wallonia (its southern part), and 1 million people in its capital, Brussels (a predominantly French-speaking enclave within Flanders), where half the population consists of immigrants – many of them Muslims.
While Flanders is free-market oriented, Wallonia is predominantly socialist. An enormous amount of Flemish subsidies (some 10 billion euros per year) is flowing to Wallonia and Brussels. 20% of the Walloons and 8% of the Flemings are unemployed and 40% of the Walloons and 20% of the Flemings are civil servants.
On Thursday, José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, visited the editorial offices of De Standaard, the leading Flemish broadsheet paper, to admonish the Flemings that it is their duty towards Europe to keep paying for Wallonia. Mr Barroso stressed that Belgium (read Flanders) has a large responsibility towards the European Union. “It would be a contradiction if we [the European Commission] would not advocate solidarity within Belgium between Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels,” Mr Barroso said.
Last week a group of post-modernist Belgian intellectuals and artists, backed by the powerful Belgian trade unions, started a petition in favour of Belgium. The petition, which is called “Red de solidariteit” (Save the solidarity), argues that Flanders has a moral obligation to keep paying for welfare in Brussels and socialist-dominated Wallonia. Mr Barroso agrees. “I strongly hope that Belgium and its three regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels, maintain their mutual level of solidarity,” the EU Commission President said. “This is of utmost importance, also for Europe. Within Europe we constantly advocate solidarity.” Mr Barroso added that he is “confident” that the Belgians will find a solution for the current political crisis. “I am a firm believer in democracy. There isn’t a single political problem which democracy cannot solve,” he said.
Mr Barroso does not seem to understand that Belgium and democracy are mutually exclusive. Indeed, Walloon politicians warn that if the Flemish majority in the Belgian parliament decides to vote in favour of policies which the Walloon minority rejects this will be the end of Belgium. In an interview in Flanders’ largest newspaper, Het Laatste Nieuws, Elio Di Rupo, the leader of the Walloon Socialists, was asked “What will happen if the Flemings use their majority in Parliament?” Mr Di Rupo answered: “That would be the end of Belgium.” The journalist objected: “That would be democratic rule, a majority in Parliament.” Whereupon Mr Di Rupo: “Then democracy will be the end of Belgium.” To Walloon politicians, however, democracy means that the Flemish majority gives in to the Walloon minority.
In Brussels, whether at the Belgian or the European level, the word “democracy” has a different meaning than in London or Washington. For the Eurocrats “democracy” implies that whenever the peoples of Europe reject their schemes (such as the so-called “European Constitution”), the political elites just go ahead because they know better than the people what is good for the people. While Mr. Barroso was visiting De Standaard, Viscount Etienne Davignon, a former European Commissioner who is the chairman of the secretive Bilderberg Group and a member of King Albert II’s Crown Council, was celebrating his 75th birthday in the Egmont Palace in Brussels. Among the invited was George Soros, who said that Europe [i.e. the European Union] incarnates the idea of the “open society.” Viscount Davignon said that a debate “without taboos” is needed about the EU’s future. He asked whether countries such as Britain, “which consistently hamper European integration,” should not be ousted from the EU.
In a birthday interview in last Thursday’s De Standaard, the Viscount stressed that the Belgian trade unions oppose larger autonomy for Flanders. Every Fleming, including Mr Leterme, knows that such a statement is a threat. Belgium is a corporatist system. It is run by an alliance of the trade unions and an oligarchic French-speaking establishment headed by the King and dominated by the clique around Viscount Davignon.
While all the Belgian political parties and most institutions have split along linguistic lines, the powerful trade unions have not, nor has the Belgian social security system. The latter is controlled by a conglomerate of three trade unions (a Christian-Democrat, a Socialist and a Liberal one). These are recognized by the government as the only representative trade unions.
In Belgium, unlike anywhere else in the world, the three official trade unions, not the state, pay unemployment benefits. Each year the government gives them the necessary funds and also pays them a fee for every unemployed person they cater for. The perverse result is that it is in the unions’ interest to have high unemployment: the more people without a job, the richer the trade unions become. The total sum of the fees amounts to 120 million euros per year. What is more, all Belgian civil servants are automatically union members: the government pays their membership dues (a total of over 45.5 million euros) directly to the unions – even for individuals who do not want to join.
The Belgian authorities deal only with the three officially recognized unions. These have a combined membership of over 2.9 million – almost 30% of the whole Belgian population. Over half the members (54%) belong to the Christian-Democrat Union, 39% to the Socialist Union and 7% to the Liberal Union.
Each of the official unions is linked to a sickness fund. These funds run Belgium’s mandatory health insurance system, owning hospitals, pharmacies and health resorts. The unions and sickness funds are national organizations with huge financial interests in both parts of the country. They do not tolerate any questioning of the Belgian State and its unity, because they fear that any successor to this state, and in particular an independent Flemish Republic, will be less generous to them. They are always ready to mobilize their members and their clients (the unemployed, the sick, everyone at the receiving end of the generous “social” subsidies provided by the state, as well as those who earn their living providing the welfare state’s “care”) against “political adventures” such as Flemish separatism.
Last week the Social Partners and the Davignon network made it clear to the Flemish Christian-Democrats that playtime is over and that Mr Leterme has to form a government very soon. The “royal scout” Herman Van Rompuy, a pro-Belgian Christian-Democrat and a member of the King’s Crown Council, gave Mr Leterme a binding memorandum, written by the Walloon politician Joelle Milquet, which states that the new government “has to respect the principle of solidarity and the economic unity of the country.”
Greater Flemish autonomy, let alone a unilateral declaration of Flemish independence by the Flemish regional parliament, is out of the question. In the event of a Flemish secession, the trade unions will stop paying unemployment and welfare benefits in Flanders, while the Belgian state, controlled by the French-speaking establishment, will stop paying the salaries of the thousands of Flemish civil servants. The establishment will deliberately create chaos with the aim of turning Flemish public opinion against “secessionist adventurers.”
Pressured by the establishment’s blackmail, the Belgians will soon have a new government. The Flemish Christian-Democrats (CD&V) and the Flemish Liberals (VLD) are about to join a coalition with Mrs Milquet’s Walloon Humanists (CDH) and the Walloon Liberals (MR, the party of the anti-American and pro-Cuban European Commissioner Louis Michel, another member of the Crown Council). All the Flemish demands for more autonomy and for diminishing Flemish welfare subsidies to Wallonia have been smothered.
The Flemish demand to abolish the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) constituency, which allows Walloon parties to stand for election in Flanders while Flemish parties are not allowed to stand in Wallonia, has been turned down, too. According to a 2003 ruling of Belgium’s Constitutional Court, BHV has to be abolished because it discriminates the Flemings. Despite this ruling, however, BHV will continue to exist. This is unconstitutional, but who cares? For the Belgian establishment the Constitution is but a piece of paper which, if the continued existence of the state is at stake, is simply ignored.
What will happen next? Mr Leterme will become Prime Minister and will govern until 2011. His Christian-Democrats are likely to lose the 2009 regional elections. However, by then the Belgian establishment might have neutralized the Flemish secessionist Vlaams Belang (VB) by taking away its finances. The Council of State, a Belgian administrative court, is soon to rule whether or not to defund the VB. This is an attempt to kill the party by depriving it of its finances. Ten years ago the Belgian authorities decided to make it illegal for political parties to accept private donations. Instead parties are subsidized by the state in accordance with the number of votes gained in the last elections. Parties that are considered to be “enemies of the state” can, however, be defunded.
Perhaps the British, if they are lucky, will have been ousted from the EU by 2011. While continental Europe becomes ever more totalitarian, England might just manage to escape. Flanders, unfortunately, will not. As The Brussels Journal wrote last June 11th, Flanders voted for the right but it will not get what it is entitled to. There is no democracy in Brussels, neither at the European level nor at the Belgian level.
|A Throne in Brussels: Britain, the Saxe-Coburgs and the Belgianisation of Europe
Author: Paul Belien
On the current crisis in Belgium, see also:
The Influence of the Immigrant Vote on Belgian Politics, 26 June 2007
EU: The Model is Collapsing. Brussels Calls upon King for Help, 18 August 2007
After Belgium: Will Flanders and the Netherlands Reunite? 23 August 2007
Could Sarkozy Solve Belgium’s Crisis? 3 September 2007
Even Flemish Muslims Want to Separate from the Walloons, 6 September 2007
If Flanders Secedes Wallonia Disintegrates, 9 September 2007
After Belgium: Europe’s New Map, 13 September 2007
Thrembling Thrones in Brussels, 18 September 2007
Save Belgium: Postmodernists to the Rescue, 28 September 2007
Yves Leterme Is Too Soft. Will Flanders Join EFTA? 1 October 2007
Background articles explaining Belgium:
A City Without Water Is A City Without A Soul, 28 June 2005
How Flanders Helped Shape Freedom in America, 11 July 2005
The Dark Roots of the EU, 5 December 2005
Nations Under Construction: Defining Artificial States, 13 June 2006
Why Is the Vlaams Belang So Popular? 13 February 2007
Belgium, the EU’s Destiny. The End of Nothingness, 25 August 2007