The words crisis and Belgium don’t jingle along together very naturally, but with the country still in limbo 110 days after its general election, the media are starting to take the issue of Belgium and its possible (but unlikely) separation seriously.
The leader of the Flemish Christian Democrat Party and President-in-waiting, Yves Leterme, who has said that Belgium’s two main linguistic communities are only held together by “the King, the football team and some beers,” is pushing for more autonomy for the three regions (Francophone Wallonia in the south, Flemish-speaking Flanders in the north and predominantly-Francophone Brussels, which is an enclave within Flanders). And this is the problem – none of the parties in Wallonia want to take Leterme up on this option and form a government, preferring to maintain themselves as closely linked to a united Belgium as possible and rejecting further autonomy, which many see as a thinly-veiled separatist agenda from the north. With parties from Flanders banned from fielding candidates in Wallonia and vice versa, finding a coalition partner in the other linguistic community is vital.
Whilst there are linguistic and cultural niggles (Flemings love nothing better than putting down their Gallic cousins in the south for their failure to master the guttural tones of Flemish, and Leterme once famously questioned whether the unfortunately-named Walloons were intellectually up to the task of learning Flemish), money plays a part as well. Whilst Wallonia used to be richer and more populous than Flanders, the tables have now been turned. Unemployment in Wallonia is nudging 15% and is twice that of Flanders, and wages in the south are significantly lower; and there’s a popular conception that southern Belgium is full of dole scroungers living off Flanders’ wealth. If Belgium were to take the Czechoslovakia option, Flanders would be one of the richest countries in the EU and Wallonia one of the poorest.
Belgian pragmatism will likely win the day, as the issue of who gets to keep Brussels makes separation too complicated and risky even for Flanders. The option of turning Brussels into a city state (Brussels D.C.) has been touted, but neither Walloons nor Flemings want to lose their link to the city.
Obviously, Planet Churro doesn’t support the idea of countries trying to offload poorer regions, but if political progress is impossible due to the myriad differences between the more Anglo-Saxon-leaning Flemings and the more Latin Walloons, then maybe separation is the best option, as long as a formula can be found that suits everybody. This would require Wallonia to be financially compensated for the income it would lose due to spearation, and Flanders to foot the bill for ditching poorer Belgians. And all this could be brokered and managed by the EU, which has a direct stake in the future of Brussels and which could call the shots to the potential new-member States through its adhesion talks. But, of course, Flemish independence fervour might wane if the cash advantages were taken out of the equation.