Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Belgian government collapses

Here we go again. Last night the Belgian government collapsed, just four months after it was formed in March. Before then, the nation had been without a government for nine months while the French- and Dutch-speaking parties were unable to form a unity government.

Belgium’s King Albert II is considering the resignation, but he doesn’t really have much leeway to block it. The prime minister of the four-month-old coalition government, Yves Leterme, had set a deadline of July 15 for getting an agreement on devolving more power to the regions. Belgium is made up of Dutch-speaking Flanders in the North, French-speaking Wallonia in the South and Brussels, which is French-speaking but located within Flanders. The Flemish, who are wealthier, want more local power, but the Walloons are resisting this because it would marginalize their influence.

Many Belgians these days are questioning whether the country should exist at all. As reported by the Economist today, many Belgians have told pollsters they expect their country will break up. The Economist itself has advocated this solution, arguing that the country’s very existence is an accident of history and its usefulness has passed.

With this collapse, the country looks closer than it ever has to breaking up. In addition to having no government, the country is now seeing the fastest inflation in 24 years and rapidly slowing economic growth. With the collapse having been technically over something quite minor – the splitting up of a small bilingual voting district called Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde – it’s hard to see how the country is going to be able to resolve this impasse. But if the country does split up, the question remains: what will happen to Brussels?


Andy said...

It's fairly obvious. Wallonia (being French-speaking) is reintegrated with France, Flanders is reintegrated with the Netherlands, and Brussels is declared as a capital city state, for the European Union... something like Washington DC.

Dave Keating said...

Yeah exactly, in a logical world that would make sense right? Except that from what I understand, most people in Flanders are dead set against the idea of joining with the Netherlands because they think they would have little power in the Dutch state. And they also wouldn't be too happy about losing Brussels. The idea of a EU federal territory would probably make a lot of people very uncomfortable as well, especially with the status of the EU being in such limbo right now.

My understanding is that Walloons would have no problem joining France, in fact I think they couldn't survive as an independent country, as if they were they would be the poorest in Europe.

edgeinducedcohesion said...

I think it would make sense to have Brussels be an EU capital without ties to any country, and for Walloons to join with France (if France would take them), but why not let Flanders have its own state as the "successor state" to Belgium, even if it would have to pick a new capital.