BELGIUM: Some in the know argue that a Belgian divorce would produce a “win-win situation for both Flanders and Wallonia” the two regions (French and Dutch) that make up the country of Belgium. But King Albert II doesn’t seem to think so. He’s been fighting this idea of separating the two countries for years, and as far back as 2006, he warned against a Belgian divorce. Says the Brussels Journal back in ’06:
King Albert said yesterday that a situation of social inequality between regions by definition leads to financial transfers between these regions. He added that these problems cannot be solved by “overt or covert separatism” and warned that an “anachronistic and disastrous separatism” would “jeopardize the international role of Brussels.”
Fast forward 4 years when the situation reaches a tipping point. Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme tendered his resignation to King Albert just a couple of weeks ago and the Wall Street Journal ran this headline: Belgium’s government collapses. Other respected publications were equally alarmist about the situation. What, really, is this all about? Some say it really comes down to linguistics and district lines – an explanation that is at once esoteric and banal. Business Week:
Belgium has gone through four governments — two headed by Leterme — since elections in 2007 produced a political stalemate that led some to question whether the linguistically divided country would stay in one piece….
Since the April brouhaha whereby the prime minister tendered his resignation to King Albert (which Albert accepted), there has been all this talk of a divorce, literally, of what is now known as the country of Belgium ceasing to exist; of it splitting into two with the Dutch side enjoying economic superiority and the French side? Well, the French side’s fate not so certain. And what would happen to Brussels? The City of Brussels would be tossed into the center of a maelstrom of uncertainty whose position as the capital of the European Union would be jeopardized. This can’t be good.
Pundits claim that it was the far right who was pushing for a divorce, but this may be only partially true. Brussels Journal, 2010:
Foreign press correspondents in Brussels are telling their readers and viewers in the home country that the Flemish Far Right is clamouring for the divorce between Flanders and Wallonia. This is true in itself, but by obscuring the non-Right support for this demand and the non-Flemish Far-Right support for Belgian unity, it falsely suggests a natural and intrinsic connection between separatism and the Far Right.
Huh? Well, whatever that meant, maybe all this divorce talk is just a bluff and King Albert ought to have himself a glass of Jim Beam and relax? Because, clearly, a divorce would not benefit anyone in this situation and they need to sit down and figure something out here. Says WSJ:
Despite the divisions, no major Belgian political party is advocating a breakup. The French-language group can’t afford to lose the financial support of Flanders, one of the wealthiest regions in the world. Flemish politicians oppose a divorce because they would lose political control of Brussels, because it would cost them geopolitical capital and because it would simply be too expensive. Belgium’s 97% ratio of debt to gross domestic product is the third-highest in the euro zone, behind Italy and Greece
What is it that makes this marriage so unhappy anyways? How can Wallonia regain the respect of Flanders? It’s hard to say. It is almost as if the Flanders region feels that the Wallonia region is not pulling its weight and has become mired in economic and creative “lethargy” yet is reaping all the benefits of hard work of Flanders. If true, Wallonia needs to do something. But what? Ashot of botox, maybe? Yes I know. That was idiotic.