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Belgium’s New Record: A Trend for Europe?

February 18, 2011

Yesterday was a “festive” day in Belgium, as citizens across the country celebrated the fact that it set a new world record—the longest a democratic country has gone without a government.  (The BBC has some nice pictures of the day’s events.)  By now, this blog has made numerous posts on Belgium and how it is government-challenged, such as Beards for Belgium!, The Fate of Belgium, and Will Belgium remain a Country?

Yet Belgium does not appear to have suffered too much despite only having a caretaker government for 250 days.  For instance, the country held the rotating EU Presidency for six months, and no one seemed to really notice that this was happening without a government.  Hungary’s government, on the other hand, has managed to stay in the press despite having a government that controls more than two-thirds of the seats in the Hungarian Parliament.  Also, international investors appear to have taken a kind view to a government-less Belgium, as Standard & Poor’s has reportedly said that it would downgrade Belgian debt if a government is not formed by June (i.e. a whole year after elections).

Belgium’s highly federalized system is an advantage at the moment, since so many services are controlled by the regional governments, so it is easier for the country to function without a central government.  In fact, Belgium has become the poster child of a “Europe of regions”, where the EU and regions have gained powers at the expense of central governments.  In fact, some scholars even argue that Europe is going through a period of “neo-medievalism,” meaning that Europe will consist of strong regional governments, a weak central government, and a pan-European “ruler.”  During the Middle Ages, these posts were held by the Catholic Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, with the EU now assuming this position.

While Belgium might be an extreme case due to its national make-up, decentralization appears to be here to stay in Europe.  As a result, could Belgium’s current situation be an example of the future of Europe?

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