Last month, the deep sound of the French “Non” and the Dutch “Neen” struck Brussels like a rising knell. Many reasons have been put forward for the rejection of the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands, but one obvious reason has so far been left unmentioned. The Federal Kingdom of Belgium, a state inhabited by Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-Speaking Walloons, prides itself on being “the prototype of Europe.” Perhaps their linguistic neighbours in France and the Netherlands, who speak the same languages as the Belgians, simply did not want to be governed from Brussels and end up in a European super-state that is fast becoming a Greater Belgium.
The French and Dutch “No” enraged not only the Eurocrats but also the Belgocrats, who perceived the vote against “Europe” to be a vote against Belgium: a refusal on the part of the French and the Dutch to join the Walloons and the Flemings and become “true Europeans” – which in the mindset of the Belgian authorities at the western end of Rue de la Loi (the European Commission has its headquarters at the eastern end of the street) is the same thing as “Belgians.”
Hence the unprecedented diplomatic row between The Hague and Brussels following the Dutch vote, when Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht personally insulted Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende and scolded the government in The Hague for not having prevented the vote. “[Belgian Prime Minister] Verhofstadt and I would have dealt with this differently,” an angry De Gucht lambasted. The Belgian PM simply did not allow a referendum to be held: “Brussels is the centre of Europe, in fact we are Europe. It is impossible to vote against oneself,” he said.
One prominent Dutchman who does not want a Europe modelled on Belgium is Frits Bolkestein, the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market from 1999 to 2004. In an interview in the Flemish magazine Humo, Bolkestein said on Tuesday: “It is the old Belgian wish [to establish a United States of Europe], isn’t it? The Belgians are the last federalists of Europe because that would solve their [national] problem. But it will not happen. Europe has, of course, some federalist characteristics, such as the parliament and the Central Bank, but it is not a federation. I do not want it: a Europe like that with one capital, one army, one international legal personality. [...] We cannot build federations like Belgium on the European level. We have too few things in common. [...] Belgium will have to solve its own problems. The European escape route does not exist.”
In the interview Bolkestein also said that the so-called “Bolkestein directive,” which provided for the free establishment of service providers and the free movement of services within the EU had become politically controversial because of the Belgians. At first the directive had been unanimously accepted but suddenly the Walloon Socialist Party, one of the major parties in Belgium’s government coalition, began to criticise it. “I think they were looking for a way to criticise the government of which they were a part. That is obviously not easy, so they used the directive as a means to do this. [...] The Walloon arguments spread to France, where the politicians and the trade unions adopted them.” Widespread uneasiness with the Bolkestein directive is said to have been one of the reasons why France voted “no” to the Constitution. This means that the Belgians indirectly torpedoed the European Constitution so dear to them.