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Will Belgium remain a Country?

June 15, 2010

On Sunday another West European country went to the polls and again the results are receiving a lot of comments in the press.  This time, Belgians voted for their national parliament and now many are wondering about the future of Belgium, as the party that received the most votes in the Flemish north is the New Flemish Alliance (NVA), which openly calls for Belgium splitting in two.

Belgium has often been seen as being the quintessential “European” country.  The country exemplifies the “Europe of regions” as it is one of the most decentralized countries in the world, as the regional governments of Flanders (the northern, Dutch speaking portion) and Walloon (the southern, French speaking section) control many government functions, such as education, health care, and transport.  This last sector can make traveling in Belgium interesting, as the language in trains suddenly shifts from one official language to another as the train crosses between regions.

However, this regionalization has also led to deep divides in Belgian politics.  No “Belgian” political parties exist, but instead there are Flemish and French versions of the major parties.  For instance, the Socialists did well in the French-speaking parts of Belgium, but it would then have to negotiate an agreement with the Flemish Socialists to form a government.  Even if two parties of the same ideology can agree to form a government, this is no guarantee that it will be stable.  After the last general election, it took 200 days and the king’s intervention to form a government, and it subsequently collapsed three times in three year.

Given that Belgium is to assume the rotating EU Presidency in a little over two weeks, a repeat of this slow performance would mean that a Belgian government would be formed just in time to hand off the reigns of the EU to Hungary.  Perhaps the spectacle of having a care taker government led the EU might force Belgian politicians to agree on a government, at least until January 1.

While not a realistic scenario, maybe the Belgians could help simplify the complex ruling structure of the EU by having Herman Van Rompuy, who is a former Prime Minister of Belgium and currently President of the European Council, take over the reins of all three posts at once.  Then Belgium would truly be at the heart of the EU.


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