This afternoon, on the 150th day after the June 10th elections, the Home Affairs Committee of the Belgian House of Representatives voted to divide the electoral constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) into a Flemish constituency (Halle-Vilvoorde) and a bilingual constituency (Brussels). The politicians from the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders voted in favour of the split-up, while the politicians from the French-speaking region of Wallonia left the room in protest. The majority of the Belgians are Flemish, but the country has always been dominated by Wallonia. It is the first time in Belgium’s 177 years of existence that he Flemings use their demographic majority of 60% to impose their will.
In Flanders, Belgium’s Dutch-speaking northern half, last June’s elections were won by two parties. The first of these was CD&V (Christen-Democratisch & Vlaams), an alliance of Christian-Democrats and Flemish-Nationalists which aims to transform Belgium into a confederacy of Flanders and Wallonia, the country’s French-speaking southern half. The second of these were the Flemish-secessionists, who aim for downright Flemish independence. Together they polled 56.1% of the Flemish electorate. The CD&V leader Yves Leterme, the son of a Walloon father and a Flemish mother, became the most popular politician in Flanders, with more than 800,000 votes to his name.
The huge gains of Flemish confederalists and secessionists resulted from the deep frustration with the political stalemate concerning the BHV electoral constituency. In a 2003 ruling the Belgian Constitutional Court ordered the Belgian government to abolish this constituency, which allows French-speaking politicians to stand for election in the Halle-Vilvoorde region, which is Flemish, while Dutch-speaking politicians are not allowed to stand for election in Wallonia. The Constitutional Court ruled that this is a discrimination of the Flemings and exhorted the government to rectify the situation by July 2007 at the latest. The governing Liberal and Socialist parties in the coalition of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (a Flemish Liberal) failed to do this. Consequently the Liberals and Socialists lost the elections in Flanders, but won in Wallonia.
It is an unwritten rule of Belgian politics that a government has to consist of the largest parties from both parts of the country. Since the elections Yves Leterme has been trying in vain to form a government of Christian-Democrats and Liberals. The Christian-Democrats and the Liberals, however, could not agree on the BHV issue. As Parliament has now asserted its authority over the issue, it is expected that soon a government will be put together which will leave the BHV issue to Parliament rather than trying to solve it at the governmental level.
It will take months before the BHV issue will be put to the vote in the plenary parliament. The Belgian Constitution contains a provision which stipulates that a majority decision taken by the Flemish majority against the French-speaking minority can be objected to by the latter on the grounds that its “vital interests” have been violated. Tonight the leaders of all the French-speaking parties convened and invoked the "violation of vital interests" clause. The procedure requires that now a 60 day "cooling" period is observed. Another result is that the Belgian Parliament can only settle the issue with a two-third majority and a majority within each language group. This makes it virtually impossible to split BHV against the will of the Walloon minority. In the meantime, however, a time-consuming procedure will have to be followed, which will postpone a decision in the plenary parliament for several months – perhaps even until after the regional elections in June 2009. Consequently Mr. Leterme will be able to govern until June 2009, when the political deadlock will resume.
A poll published yesterday in Het Laatste Nieuws, the largest newspaper in Flanders, shows that the Flemings do not expect Belgium to survive. 63% of the Flemish people think that Belgium’s end is near. 87% answered no when asked whether compromises should be made with the Walloon parties in order to save Belgium. 84% said that a reform of the State which grants greater autonomy to Flanders, should be the government’s absolute priority.
On the current crisis in Belgium, see also:
McKinsey CEO Calls for End of Belgium, Resigns, 13 December 2005
King Warns for Dissolution of Belgium, 1 February 2006
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
Royal Scout Keeps a Low Profile, Brussels Recalls Ambassador in Paris, 31 August 2007
Could Sarkozy Solve Belgium’s Crisis? 3 September 2007
Even Flemish Muslims Want to Separate from the Walloons, 6 September 2007
Crisis in Belgium: If Flanders Secedes Wallonia Disintegrates, 9 September 2007
Save Belgium: Postmodernists to the Rescue, 28 September 2007
Yves Leterme Is Too Soft. Will Flanders Join EFTA? 1 October 2007
Barroso and Bilderberg to the Rescue of Belgium, 7 October 2007
Information and Disinformation about Belgium, 6 November 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