Friday, 21 December 2007

Belgium’s death throes continue

Is this the beginning of the end of Belgium? The country’s protracted political crisis shows no sign of coming to an end and the country remains without a government, even though elections were held in June. The basic problem lies in the inability of Flemings and Walloons to agree on the division of powers within the country, and over recent years Flemish opinion has hardened against their Francophone compatriots and against the Belgian state generally. Now a small Flemish party, the New Flemish Alliance, has refused to join a coalition under the leadership of Yves Leterme, the (Flemish) Christian Democrat leader, because its leader, Bart De Wever, does not think that Leterme’s agreement on devolution of power to Belgium’s regions (i.e. to Flanders) goes far enough. Although Leterme campaigned and won on more power for Flanders, he has played this down as he seeks a Francophone coalition partner. The Walloons are generally hostile to any further decentralisation of power because they are big recipients of federal money. They fear that if the regions (i.e., in effect, Flanders) have fiscal autonomy, autonomy over corporate tax, employment policy and family policy, then the country will have, in effect, split into two.

The sticking point with the New Flemish Alliance is the social security budget, which the Flemings want to regionalise. This would put an immediate end to the massive gravy train which is the Belgian state and Wallonia would lose out heavily. Mr De Wever knows that Mr. Leterme cannot do without the five seats he has in the federal Parliament, and therefore he is being intransigent. He calculates that Leterme’s inability to deliver proves that, in fact, separation for Flanders is the only answer. [Jean-Pierre Stroobants, Le Monde, 28 November 2007] In the meantime, the caretaker Belgian government (composed of the same ministers who ran the previous government) has signed the EU Reform Treaty (the replacement for the defunct Constitution) even though the Belgian constitution forbids a caretaker government from signing any new international agreements while it is in office.

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here ----

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