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The Euro brought Belgium on the edge of the abyss

Belgium currently faces a very serious existential crisis. Some even dare to speak of the possibility of a complete crackdown of the homeland of both, the European Union and NATO. The crisis arose out of the government coalition talks following the June 10th Belgian general election. According to the Belgian Constitution, the two largest linguistic groups, i.e. the Dutch-speaking Flemings (ca. 60% of the population) and the French-speaking Walloons (ca. 40% of the population), the third being the Germanophones (less than 1% of the population), are to be equally represented in the Belgian government. Since the Flemish centre-right cartel list of Christian democrats and Flemish nationalists (member of the European People’s Party) polled 18.51% and the Walloon Reformist Movement (member of the European Liberals, Democrats and Reformists), an electoral alliance of liberals, liberal conservatives and Belgian unity advocates, polled 12.52%, both becoming by far the largest factions in their linguistic groups, they were doomed to form a government coalition together.

Because both parties did not yet dispose of a parliamentary majority together, they brought the Flemish Liberal-Democratic Party (ELDR, polled 11.83%) and the Walloon Humanist Democrats (EPP, polled 6.06%) around the negotiation table in order to form a centre-right government coalition, consisting of liberals, Christian democrats, Flemish nationalists and Belgian unionists, with Yves Leterme, party leader of the Flemish Christian democrats and former head of the Flemish regional government, as new Belgian prime minister, replacing the Flemish liberal Guy Verhofstadt. In spite of these four parties not having polled over 50% of the Belgian vote, combined they only represent 48.92% of the Belgian electorate, this coalition in the making would have 81 out of 150 seats in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, or a parliamentary majority of 54%. This is due to the unbalanced Belgian electoral system and the huge overrepresentation of the Walloon minority in the federal parliament.

But the formation talks were overshadowed by what the Walloon law professor and notorious Belgian unionist François Delpérée called “a perfume of crisis”. The Flemish parties not only demanded more power being transferred from the Belgian federation to the regional level, but also big fiscal and social reforms, while the Walloons wanted to maintain the current Belgian artificial construct, or even strengthen it further by reducing the autonomy of the regional entities, and to counter every Flemish proposition of in-depth economic reform. Both sides were also under very heavy pressure from their linguistic groups. On the one hand, the Flemish opposition is dominated by the far-right Vlaams Belang party (17 seats) and the liberal-fortuynist List Dedecker (5 seats), who are both advocates of very drastic fiscal conservative measures and full Flemish independence from Belgium, while on the other hand, the Walloon opposition consists of the far-left Socialist Party (20 seats) and the far-right National Front (1 seat), who both stand for Belgian national unity and a very strong welfare state system.

With all this taken in consideration, everybody knew right from the start that these talks were going to be difficult, but no one expected them to fail. Difficult government negotiations are not rare in Belgium. In fact, they happen all the time. So the Belgian people is getting used to this quadrennial circus. Last week nevertheless, the unexpected happened. Even the intervention of the Belgian King could not sort out the problem, and after two and a half months of wasting time with useless negotiations, Yves Leterme, the leader of the talks, resigned from his formation duty. The Walloon position on economic reform, as well as their veto on every part, no matter how small, of institutional and constitutional matter, forced Mr. Leterme to return his mandate to the King. The Walloon “non” made the formation of a decent workable government impossible.

But what made this formation so different from all other previous attempts? Very often, the negotiations started in an atmosphere of mutual discontent, and very often both linguistic groups disagreed with each other on many crucial parts of the proposed reforms, but this bi-polar situation never led to a similar crisis as Belgium is facing today. In the Belgian media, a multitude of possible reasons have been summed up by a wide range of journalists, analysts, politicians and technocrats, going from a severely polarized nationalist debate, over the tiredness of the Flemish people to give in on the Walloon demands, to the alleged weakness and lack of competence of Yves Leterme himself. As usual, the truth will undoubtedly lie in the middle of these three possible reasons, but in spite of that, the idea of secession and full Flemish independence as seeming the only possible solution out of the crisis, is gaining strength in Flanders. The “secession bill” introduced by Vlaams Belang in the Flemish regional parliament is an important signal to Wallonia and the world for the awakening of extreme nationalism inside the Flemish society where such radicalism used to be rather rare.

But there was one more element no one dared to invoke, until recently, when Geert Noels, a notorious Belgian economist and journalist, and Louis Tobback, Belgian Minister of State and current socialist mayor of Leuven, both commented on the Belgian political crisis. According to them, the European Central Bank was to blame for this aberration in the Belgian government formation talks.

In a country, any country, with its own monetary system, despite how sound it may be, the value of the currency will decrease every time a crisis within the government occurs. The main element determining the value of a currency is the political, and monetary, stability of the country that issues the money. If Britain, for instance, would face a similar crisis, the situation of the British Pound on the international markets will undoubtedly deter, and since every fluctuation in monetary value has an enormous impact on the economy of the country itself (inflation, for-ex, international trade, price settings, etc), the repercussions of such a crisis may simply be too hard to bear for the political leaders withholding their radical position vis-à-vis each other. In the case of Britain, no party involved in the coalition talks would simply dare to risk a monetary collapse, and the impact on the economy, and will hence be more eager to find a political compromise.

But Belgium is no longer in charge of its own monetary policy. The Belgian politicians no longer have to fear the monetary impact of their decisions, since the European Central Bank is nowadays responsible for controlling the inflation rate and the value of the European Monetary Union’s single currency, the Euro, in which Belgium, as Europhile as we are, takes part. The analyses of Louis Tobback in the television show “TerZake” and Geert Noels in the business magazine “Trends” were very clear. According to them, if such a crisis as Belgium is facing today, would have occurred in the nineties, the Belgian monetary system would have simply collapsed. The Belgian franc would have suffered tremendous losses in value, especially in such a vibrant and ever-changing marketplace as the one whereon foreign currencies are traded.

Thanks to the Euro zone, the European Monetary Union (EMU) and the European Central Bank (ECB), the Belgian government can easily go in decay without having to bear the monetary consequences of such a crisis. This kind of political irresponsibility has been made possible by the European Union and its satellite institutions. So, thank you, Brussels, for bringing even more unaccountability to the Belgian federal regime. Thank you, Strasbourg, for allowing this senseless Belgian circus to continue its performance without interruption or ending. And of course, last but not least, thank you, Frankfort, for having dug Belgium's grave.

Deze tribune verscheen in Blauwdruk, The Free State en The Brussels Journal, en op de websites van het LVSV Leuven, In Flanders Fields, Samizdata, Looking for a Voice, Slugger O'Toole, de Jong VLD Berchem, Kim Dutoit en Free-Europe, alsook op tal van weblogs.

Meer kritische teksten over de euro op

29 Reacties:

At 21:20 Caroline Van Hecke said...

Vincent, je legt hier weer de vinger op de wonde, ook al zullen veel lezers deze tekst niet weten te appreciëren, al is het maar omdat ze de achterliggende monetaire en economische redeneringen niet zullen vatten. De ECB en de euro leiden inderdaad tot een verlies aan verantwoordelijkheid in hoofde van de regeringsonderhandelaars, en dat is gewoonweg schandalig. Vrijheid gaat steeds gepaard met verantwoordelijkheid, en als de onderhandelaars "vrij" kunnen zijn om de boel op te blazen, zonder "verantwoordelijk" te zijn voor de eventuele monetaire en economische gevolgen, is dat inderdaad een verkeerde situatie. Vooral als je je bezint over de reikwijdte hiervan. België is maar een klein landje binnen de eurozone en dus kan het Belgisch wangedrag nog wel gecompenseerd worden door de andere eurolanden, waardoor de impact van de Belgische crisis op de euro verwaarloosbaar is, maar wat gebeurt er in de veronderstelling dat ooit Duitsland of Frankrijk met zulke binnenlandse crisissen af te rekenen krijgen? Dan zal dat wel een impact hebben op de euromunt, én dus ook op België en alle andere landen van de eurozone die NIETS te maken hebben met de Duitse of Franse politieke problemen. Deze constructie is zéér gevaarlijk voor de kleine landen, en net daarom moeten we de EU vaarwel zeggen en uit de eurozone opstappen, niet wegens nostalgie of nationalisme, maar gewoon uit gezond verstand.

At 09:54 Fcal said...

Voorgaande klopt, maar in de afgelopen 30 jaar hebben de Franstalige regeringspartijen om de haverklap, (zoiets als minstens 4 x jaar) chantage gepleegd op de Belgische frank. Dit lukt nu inderdaad niet meer. Maar laat het nu het Franstalige landsdeel zijn, dat de hoofdmoot van de nationale schuld heeft opgebouwd mede gebruikmakend van dit middel.

Veel erger is het feit, dat grote landen als Frankrijk en Duitsland net door de Euro de mogelijkheid hebben benut en dit in weerwil van de afspraken van Dublin hun begrotingstekort buitensporig te laten oplopen. Duitsland is nu in tegenstelling met de tijd van Schroeder een en ander aan het rechtzetten. Frankrijk moet er nog aan beginnen. En van Italië en Griekenland spreken we niet.

Het bestaan van de euro laat in het geval van België toe eindelijk zonder Franstalige chantage een nieuwe en hopelijk meer verantwoorde koers te varen met deelstaten, die zelf moeten instaan voor hun inkomsten of zelfs onafhankelijke staten worden met eenzelfde verantwoordelijkheid.

At 10:36 Quinten G. said...

Ik las enkele maanden geleden in The Economist trouwens de beleggingstip om niet langer in de eurozone te investeren, maar daarbuiten, omdat de euro een forse klap zou krijgen. De reden daarvoor zou de desastreuze situatie in Portugal zijn, en de nakende economische crisis in buurland Spanje, terwijl ook Griekenland, Italië en - fingers crossed for Sarkozy - Frankrijk problemen zouden kunnen hebben. De euro zou niet in staat zijn om stand te houden als al deze landen ten prooi zouden vallen aan zulke crises.

Ik wil hier dus maar zeggen, dat Dhr. Deroeck volledig gelijk heeft. Door de euro hangt het lot van alle eurozone-landen aan elkaar vast, terwijl er geen afdwingbare afspraken onderling gemaakt zijn om de stabiliteit van de munt te garanderen. En dat is ook wat de vorige commentator zegt. De énige "afspraak" die gemaakt werd, nl. die van het begrotingstekort en de inflatievoeten, wordt door de grote landen Frankrijk en Duitsland gewoon naast zich neergelegd, ongeacht de gevolgen.

At 11:52 Hugo said...

Ik vind het allemaal nogal simplistisch om alles in de schoenen van de EU te schuiven. Precies of zij echt de "root of all evil" zijn. De EU heeft zijn gebreken, maar is zeker niet alleen maar "slecht". De EU heeft 62 jaar vrede en voorspoed in Europa op zijn palmares staan, om maar iets te noemen. De uitbreiding naar het oosten zal nog eens minstens 60 jaar vrede en welvaart teweeg brengen. We mogen het kind niet met het badwater weggooien. De EU moet hervormd worden, moet misschien inderdaad verder "uitgediept" worden, maar dan wel in "minder" domeinen, maar de EU in zijn totaliteit opdoeken is een brug te ver. Daarbij vind ik het steeds raar hoe iemand als Vincent De Roeck, nochtans een "liberaal", in EU-zaken aan hetzelfde laken trekt als bijvoorbeeld de fascisten in België en Nederland (VB en PVV), maar ook als de communisten (SP in Nederland). Ik wist niet dat "libertarisme" gelijkgeschakeld kon worden met fascisme en communisme.

At 14:31 Joris Verdonk said...

Hugo, libertarisme is helemaal niet hetzelfde als fascisme of communisme. Zoiets durven beweren is ronduit "preposterous", schandalig dus. Het is niet omdat libertariërs, net als fascisten en communisten, gekant zijn tegen de Europese monsterstaat, dat ze dezelfde visie zouden vertolken.

De redenen van hun aversie tegenover de EU zijn ook volkomen verschillend. Communisten vinden de EU een "te liberaal" (sic!) project, terwijl de fascisten bang zijn om de nationale eigenheid van de volkeren van Europa te verliezen. Libertariërs zijn vóór economische samenwerking, vinden een nationale eigenheid niet primordiaal en vinden de EU net niet liberaal genoeg.

Kortom Hugo, je moet meer doen dan gewoon de posities vergelijken; je moet ook de beweegredenen in beschouwing nemen, en dan moet je toegeven dat het libertarisme niets te maken heeft met fascisme of communisme, of toch zeker niets méér dan socialisten en communisten, of dan conservatieven en fascisten. Maar ik denk dat je dat zelf ook al wel besefte en dat jouw laatste reactie puur diende tot provocatie.

At 17:00 Paul Marks ( said...

I do not agree that the major determiner of the value of a currency is the stablity of the country (or the government) - this was the view of some of the German Historical School (whom I despise), but that is not my reason for opposing the view.

For example, during the collapse of the Confederacy (defeat on the battlefield, the Union in occupation of ever more land and about to win the war) there were a few months when the value of the Confederate Dollar actually started to hold its value - because the Confederate printing presses (the real reason for the Confederate inflation) had broken down.

As for Belgium:

I wish the Flemish would break away from both Belgium and the E.U. - without getting away from the latter the "independence" of the Flemish would be an illusion.

I am not a "secession is always praxeologically sound" man, I have little time for secession if it is (for example) to defend slavery and maintained by HIGHER taxes and MORE fiat money inflation. But if people in an area seek to get this area out from under the control of a bunch of welfare program seekers I am all in favour of it.

And, in any case, the "Flemish nationalists" are correct - "Belgium" was an artificial creation of a French speaking elite imposed on the majority of the population (for which that majority are still paying for).

There is an historical difference between Flanders and Holland (due to the Hapsburgs keeping control of this part of the Low Countries), but it does not justify a country called Belgium (and neither does a group of tribes during the Roman Empire).

As for Proportional Representation and the "magic circle" of backroom deal, backscratching, political party alliance governments it leads to, well Belguim certainly does not show it in a good light. Even if one does not believe that these "elections that always leave the same groups in government - even if they are sitting in different seats" are a front for a child sex ring (which many people in Belgium, however mistakenly, do believe).

At 17:01 Jacob said...
Deze reactie is verwijderd door een blogbeheerder.  
At 18:35 Jacob said...

I don't know if breaking Belgium into two statelets is a bad thing. Why would it be bad? If the Euro enables this breakup - kudos to the Euro. Maybe Flanders could break away from Belgium, and from the EU, and still use the Euro as currency? Of course, it won't happen, they'll find some way out.

At 20:16 Frederick Davies ( said...

Breaking up Belgium (or any of Europe's states, no matter how artificial) would be a bad thing, and is probably what the EU bureaucrats are hoping for. It would be far, far easier for the EU to dominate and manipulate small statelets without enough economic clout to stand up to it than the current lot. A break-up of Belgium will not necessarily (or is even likely to) involve the separate parts leaving the EU, and as a result the power and influence of "Brussels" would likely increase. It was not the "non" of a minor state that stopped the EU constitution (well... delayed it at least), but the "non" of a major one. Ignoring the democratic will of a part of a divided France or a small state is peanuts for the EU bureaucracy, but ignoring one of the big states is far more dangerous. "Divide and rule" is as valid for the EU now as it was for Rome in Antiquity. Unless there was a clear indication that the parts of a divided Belgium were going to leave the EU, such an occurrence can only be viewed as a further strengthening of EU power, and I cannot see how that could be good for freedom in Europe.

At 20:18 Sammy Morse (Slugger O'Toole) said...

This article from is just bizarre - the Euro has prevented us having a financial crisis, therefore the Euro is bad… er, OK. This fellow seems to think that an economic crisis is enough to inject some common sense into a disintegrating polity, which is touchingly sweet and completely ignorant of history.

At 23:15 Marc Huybrechts (op IFF) said...

@ Vincent d.r.

1) Het is niet wijs van veel geloof te hechten aan een 'theorie' die uit het brein van Louis Tobback is gekomen. Dat politieke klasses zich onverantwoordelijk kunnen gedragen is een heel oud zeer. Maar, met de euro heeft dit volgens mij niets te maken. In feite, de realiteit is juist omgekeerd. Als de Belgische politieke klasse nog steeds over het monetaire instrument (van de wisselkoers) zou beschikken, dan zouden de (economische) gevolgen van hun onverantwoorelijk gedrag nog veel erger zijn. Men kan dit moeilijk als een argument gebruiken in een anti-euro discours dat eropneer komt van te pleiten om diezelfde klasse dat wapen/instrument (van de wisselkoers) terug in de hand te stoppen .

2) De primaire doelstellingen van de euro (en van 'Europees') monetair beleid zijn precies (a)van inflatie (binnen euroland) beneden 2 procent te houden en (hiervan afgeleid) (b)van competitieve devaluaties/depreciaties (tussen Europese landen) te vermijden. Op die punten valt er weinig te verwijten aan de euro, en ook niet aan de ECB.

3) Het spreekt vanzelf dat op lange termijn het wel en wee van de euro gaat beinvloed worden door de overheidsgedragingen van de grote landen in euroland. Maar het lijkt me niet juist (zoals fcal beweert) van te stellen dat de overheidsdeficieten van Duitsland en Frankrijk zouden vergemakkelijkt worden door het bestaan van de euro. Het is juist omgekeerd, het is het bestaan van de euro dat op termijn wordt bedreigd door die deficieten. Een gemeenschappelijke munt kan bijdragen tot meer verantwoordelijk gedrag bij de overheden van landenleden, maar het kan zulk gedrag zeker niet garanderen.

4) Hugo verwart de monetaire unie (rond de ECB en de euro) met de (ernietmeesamenvallende) politieke unie van de EU. Over de kwaliteit van het ECB monetaire beleid kan men van mening verschillen, maar zulk een discussie heeft weinig of niets te maken met een debat over de kwaliteit van het fiscale en structurele en politieke beleid vand de EU, noch met het democratische deficiet van de EU.

5) En Hugo getuigt van kuddegeest wanneer hij het etiket "fascisten" wil plakken op nationalisten. In feite, de enigen waarvan men met zekerheid kan zeggen dat ze fascistische neigingen vertonen dat zijn degenen die het grondwettelijke recht op vrijmeningsuiting verkracht hebben in het Belgische parlement met verscheidene 'gewone wetten'. Het zijn dus de 'traditionele' grote partijen, en zeker niet de 'nationalisten', die zich bezondigd hebben aan wetgeving van typisch fascistisch en communistisch allooi.

At 23:17 Paul Marks ( said...

I know about this "Europe of the Regions" thing that Mr Davies is pointing to. For example the idea that England should be broken up into regions is clearly to increase E.U. power - and the regions themselves make no sense (for example what have the towns and villages of Northamptonshire got to do with Nottingham - the supposed "capital of the East Midlands", and so on)

However, in this particular case the argument is not valid.

Belgium, or rather the political elite, is part of the vile heart of the E.U. - and independent Flanders might just get out of the E.U. (if only to prevent the subsidy of the French speakers via the E.U. after the Belgium subsidy route was cut off).

Belgium get out? Never - even if the E.U. collapsed, the ruling elite in Belgium would still most likely pretend it was up and running (a bit like the "post" communist elite in Serbia in relation to Yugoslavia).

At 23:18 Dewi (Slugger O'Toole) said...

I honestly never knew there were German speaking bits of Belguim. Live and learn eh !

At 23:20 Robert (Bruges Group) said...

Your article was very good and of interest. Much appreciated.

At 08:13 Fcal said...

@ Marc Huybrechts

3) Het spreekt vanzelf dat op lange termijn het wel en wee van de euro gaat beinvloed worden door de overheidsgedragingen van de grote landen in euroland. Maar het lijkt me niet juist (zoals fcal beweert) van te stellen dat de overheidsdeficieten van Duitsland en Frankrijk zouden vergemakkelijkt worden door het bestaan van de euro. Het is juist omgekeerd, het is het bestaan van de euro dat op termijn wordt bedreigd door die deficieten. Een gemeenschappelijke munt kan bijdragen tot meer verantwoordelijk gedrag bij de overheden van landenleden, maar het kan zulk gedrag zeker niet garanderen

Met deze stelling ben ik het eens en zoals u stelt op de lange termijn. Men kan echter niet anders dan vaststellen, dat de euro-zonelanden en niet alleen de 'grote' gebruik gemaakt hebben van deze nieuwe geboden speelruimte. Dat deze niet oneindig is en sommigen als te eng voorkomt is ook duidelijk als men kennis neemt van de verklaringen van Sarkozy, die de ECB van zijn onafhankelijkheid wenst te beroven voor puur 'lokale' politieke c.q. economische redenen.

At 14:21 Guy Herbert said...

I don't understand. Francophone and Flemish Belgium already had a common currency, the glorious Belgian Franc for many years. Could it be that the euro is just contingent. That doesn't mean economics isn't involved.

Wollonia has been in relative decline for decades, which means the inhabitants of Flanders have started to resent "carrying" it. This doesn't require a difference in language either. Compare the restiveness of northern Italy or growing English sentiment in favour of Scots independence.

A heavy state will help by increasing the moment at either end, which helps to explain the recent exacerbation of the Scots-English divide - given the spurt in the size of government, the English feel they are carrying more. It's not necessarily wholly rational: on that basis, England ought to resent Wales more.

My suspicion is that Flanders is a big beneficiary of "globalisation" - i.e. recently freer world trade - given its distribution, merchant banking and shipping traditions - and that's accelerated the drift apart.

At 14:21 Pascal said...

I thought that not having a government was a good thing...and I am pretty sure that life for the average Belgian is pretty much unchanged.

I would also argue that thanks to the Euro, one realises that we don't need politicians anywhere as much as they think we do, as they can squabble without ill effects on the economy.

At 14:44 Anoniem said...

De volgende reacties verschenen op de website van The Brussels Journal.

Atlanticist911 : "They should change its name from E.M.U to O.S.T.R.I.C.H. (Create your own acronym definition here)."

Bob Doney : "Oversized Supranational Tainted Rulebound Inflexible Currency Hell?"

At 15:24 Nick M. said...

Paul is right. A "Europe of the regions" would be easier for the EU to dominate which is the only reason they came up with such a scheme. As a Geordie I'm glad my folk in the NE deep-sixed the notion. The profound lack of understanding displayed by Brussels and Westminster (and the huge sums spent on advertising the idea) are staggering. Apart from ignoring the (bleeding obvious to anyone in the NE) difference between Geordies, Mackems, Smoggies and Monkey Hangers they also completely ignored the fact that us Northerners are fiercely English (check out the etymology of "Geordie" or the lamentable history of cross-border skirmishes with the Jocks).

Of course as Paul suggests it also ignored the differences between town and country. How could such a twisted union suit an advertising exec in Jesmond (Newcastle's Chelsea - sort of) and a farmer in the upper Tyne Valley simultaneously?

Tyne, BTW, is recorded as the name of the river by Ptolomy. That's history as the battles of Celts and Romans, Saxons and Danes, English and Scots are. And that pig-ignorant oaf Prescott was going to wipe that out with his regional assembly (presumably between pints of bitter and "having a Clinton" with the hired help)...

Paul, I was a student at Nottingham University between '92 and '95. During that time there was a big (and I think sensible, and ultimately successful) campaign to make the City of Nottingham a unitary authority. It is very different from the villages of Northamptonshire or even Nottinghamshire.

Nottingham may not be the "Capital of the East Midlands" - an odd idea at the best of times - but it is certainly the best and biggest city in the area. I seem to recall the '92 university prospectus describing the city as the "Queen of the East Midlands" which (I thought at the time) considering the opposition consisted of Leicester wasn't saying much... But it was a nice town and I had a lot of fun there.

At 15:56 Lurkio said...

There seem to be two important elements in this interesting analysis. (1) The idea of secession and full Flemish independence as seeming the only possible solution out of the crisis, is gaining strength in Flanders. (2) But there was one more element no one dared to invoke, until recently, ... the European Central Bank was to blame for this aberration in the Belgian government formation talks.

The other factor which stands out in respect of the first point, is the hugely disproportionate power and influence wielded by French speaking people, the Walloons! Who says that it is desirable for the various component communities in a nation to speak their own language, even those recently immigrant as in England?

Had either Flemish or French (or, better still, English) become predominant during its 177 years' history, Belgium would probably be a more united country than it is. Like Canada, it suffers from the never to be satisfied minority French speaking community in its midst.

This is one more demonstration of the folly, the diviseness of fostering and extending the use of numerous minority languages. Yes, it's yet another of the EU's wonderful divide and rule schemes.

At 16:29 Amsterdamsky said...

Somebody made good money off of the euroscam. You can't let 10% of your national wealth evaporate without somebody on the other end.

At 17:21 Anoniem said...

"So, thank you, Brussels, for ... helping to end a francophile cultural dictate established by the Über-Dictator Napoleon."

At 18:23 Parsley said...

Belgium is indeed a worrying reminder of what “carve-ups” do for you. After all, d’Hondt was a Belgian!


You’ve been honest enough to admit you didn’t know there was a German-speaking bit, so I hope you’ll not mind my correcting your earlier post. Belgium is not polylingual. Outside Brussels and a couple of other exclaves, it’s monolingual. But the language it’s monolingual in is Dutch in the north and French in the south. The suburbs of Brussels are not polylingual, they are monolingual Dutch. The problem is that many of them now have a majority monolingual French-speaking population. But they are still legally Dutch-speaking. Therein lies the recipe for disaster to which Sammy refers, and the lesson to which the author refers.

At 18:23 Rory Carr said...

This is quite heartening news.

From the Belgian experience we learn that all we have to do the first time that there is a crisis in the Assembly government (over language issues perhaps) is to concoct a monetary crisis and, hey presto! - political crisis finds instant resolution.

Now why didn’t we think of that in 1922?

At 20:25 Dewi said...

Fascinating article from The Economist. Francophones knew the rules when they moved to a Flemish zone I suppose. There are French speaking zones not far away.

At 04:09 Mitch said...

Well, anyone who speaks Dutch is 75% of the way to speaking English. So if the Flemish provinces decide they are not big enough to go it alone, and if they do not care to join the Netherlands, they could ask to join the UK or the even the US. We would be happy to have them and they would fit right in. Welcome, cousins! We don't like the French either!

At 10:31 Sammy Morse said...

It’s actually more complicated than all that…

The suburbs of Brussels which have a Francophone majority (over 90% in some cases) are in Flanders, legally Dutch speaking, but equally legally with special ‘facilities’ for French speakers, largely dating from the days when the language frontier was declared immovable in the (I think) 1950s. Radical Flemish politicians have continually campaigned to reduce or remove these facilities. The communities with language facility have not only been one of the main issues of community division in recent Belgian history, but would be the single largest factor preventing a Czechoslovak-style velvet divorce.

As far as the German community goes, there is a Germanophone community government but not a German-speaking territorial government; the German speaking district is politically part of Wallonia, and in Wallonia it would end up if Belgium ever split up. Belgium has three territorial regions - Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels, and three language-community governments - Dutch, French and German. While the Dutch-speakers have merged the Dutch-speaking and Flanders parliaments, the others are still separate and the Dutch-speakers fund some cultural and educational things in Brussels and, I think, in the disputed village of Fourons, “Belgium’s Belfast”.

With a federal government as well, Belgium has seven nominally sovereign authorities with overlapping territory and population. Confused? You ought to be. The Belgians usually are.

At 16:45 Evelyne said...

Vincent, ik heb nog een interessante analyse gevonden op deze website die gebaseerd is op deze tekst van u. Enkele citaten uit die analyse:

"Note that only two of the Big 3 Dividers are in play, here: political incompatibility and language difference. Language continues to be divisive, incidentally, even though Belgium has some of the most stringent bilingualism laws anywhere in the world—elected officials have to deliver their speeches twice, once in one language, and again in the other, for example—but even that has not resolved the issue."

"The language issue may seem like small potatoes compared with such issues as religion or political philosophy. It isn’t. As a social divider, it’s as big, or maybe even greater than the other two. One language, one country. Remember that always."

At 00:21 James Rogers said...

Interesting analysis, inappropriate conclusion. Heaping the blame on Brussels just won't do. The Belgians have no-one to blame but themselves for this fiasco. The European Union if anything is the solution to discredited nation-states. It is the only thing capable in the longer term of protecting all Europeans and sustaining their cultural and social attributes.


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