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?