June's election have just collapsed – meaning the country still has no government and is unlikely to be able to form one before the end of the year. Not such great timing considering Belgium still holds the EU rotating presidency for the next 4 months. But even if that extra responsibility weren’t sitting on the Belgian government’s shoulders right now, this continuing chaos is starting to border on Kafka-esque absurdity. So as I readjust to life in Belgium this morning after a week home in the US, I’m yet again left asking – is there a compelling reason for this country to continue to exist?
Last night the leader of the French-speaking Socialist Party (PS), Elio di Rupo, offered his resignation to Belgian King Albert II after negotiations to form a new government broke down. He is trying to negotiate with the Flemish separatist party NVA, which won the majority of the vote in Flanders in the June election. Di Rupo’s Socialists won the majority of votes in Wallonia, and so the two parties with directly opposing goals must come to some kind of coalition agreement to form a national government with other parties. In the mean time, no government has existed at national level since April. But since most governance functions have by now been devolved to the three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels), you’d never know the difference.
gradual dissolution of the Belgian state over the next decade, with more and more powers transferred to the regions over time until the country is eventually dissolved. Their main concern is that they are tired of wealthy Flanders having to subsidize poor Wallonia, and they want to be able to keep the tax money they contribute for themselves rather than having it go toward subsidizing the large number of unemployed people in Brussels and Wallonia. On the other hand, Di Rupo’s Walloon socialists do not want Belgium to be dissolved, and they do not want to start on a road toward that dissolution by ceding more powers to the regions. They also know that without tax contributions from the Flemish, the social welfare state in Wallonia would collapse.
elsewhere in Europe are badly needed, and quickly. But with the national government unable to do anything until a coalition is formed, its hands will be tied over the coming months both in dealing with the public debt and in steering the EU presidency.
For Belgium the situation isn’t just embarrassing any more, it has become dangerous. Speaking after this meeting with the king, di Rupo said the country is on the brink of political chaos. With both sides refusing to budge, it’s unclear what’s going to happen next. Personally I'd be rather upset if di Rupo does resign. Its not much of an issue here in Belgium and the media rarely every mentions it, but he's openly gay and therefor would have become the first openly gay male leading a country (though only the secon gay of either sex, since Iceland currently has a lesbian prime minister). It would have been interesting to see that glass ceiling broken, and I hope it still will be.