In an unprecedented speech yesterday Belgian King Albert II warned the Belgians against Flemish secessionism. Last year, the Flemish secessionist Vlaams Belang [Flemish Interest] party, which is striving for the independence of Flanders, became the largest party in Flanders as well as in Belgium as a whole. Next autumn local elections will be held, which are predicted to result in further growth for the Flemish secessionists.
Belgium is an artificial state, which prides itself on being the model of a federal Europe. It consists of 6 million Dutch-speakers in Flanders, its northern half, and 4 million French-speakers in Wallonia, its southern half. The country is dominated by its Socialist-dominated French minority, which has a constitutionally guaranteed veto over all major decisions and a guaranteed share of half the seats in government and major administrations.
The conservative, free-market oriented Flemings have been complaining for decades that they are forced to subsidize the south, while no improvement of the economic situation of the Walloons has been visible. On the contrary, Wallonia has become one of the most corrupt regions in Europe with hardly any economic growth.
An ever increasing amount of Flemish subsidies is flowing to the south each year (3.8 billion euros in 1990; 10.4 billion euros in 2003). Last November a group of Flemish intellectuals and businessmen published a manifesto proposing to transform Belgium into two states. The manifesto holds that the present situation is bad for Flanders, which is overtaxed, and for Wallonia, which is growing accustomed to a state of continued dependency. It claims that a Belgian divorce would produce a win-win situation for both Flanders and Wallonia, as the latter would have to take its fate into its own hands and shake off its economic lethargy.
Though the group did not include politicians and had no links to the Vlaams Belang one if its members, Herman de Bode, the Belgian CEO of McKinsey, was forced to resign under pressure of the Belgian establishment (many Belgian government agencies are McKinsey clients). A split up of Belgium would probably lead to the establishment of two republics, which would leave the King and his family without a job. The King is a Saxe-Coburg as Belgium was given a German monarch when the country was created in 1831.
King Albert said yesterday that a situation of social inequality between regions by definition leads to financial transfers between these regions. He added that these problems cannot be solved by “overt or covert separatism” and warned that an “anachronistic and disastrous separatism” would “jeopardize the international role of Brussels.”
If Belgium falls apart Brussels could either join Flanders, become an independent city-state or become a district governed by the European authorities. Brussels is a territorial enclave surrounded by Flanders. Throughout its entire history it was a Dutch-speaking town, until the middle of the last century, when the deliberate “frenchification” policy of the Belgian authorities succeeded in turning it into a predominantly French-speaking city.