150 days and counting - the end of Belgium as you know it?

07/11/2007

OK, I'll level with you all. I've sort of been steering clear of the subject of Belgium and the current political crisis.

For those of you who are blissfully unaware of what is going on, let me start by saying that our elections were exactly 150 days ago. To this day, the pols are still in talks to put together a coalition that will work.

So quick recap while respecting the KISS principle: Belgium straddles the boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe. This is not an easy combo, with the Flemish (who speak Dutch) and the Walloons (who speak French) and some Germans (thrown in for good measure to spice up the cocktail) all attempting to co-habit peacefully. Since 1830 they have all managed to do so more or less successfully, with the odd tiff here and there (I won't go in to the fact that for the first 100 years of Belgium's existence the Flemish were treated as second-rate citizens and that many Flemish were in cahoots with the Germans during WWII).

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the state was regionalized, which led to a federation with federal, regional and community governments. A perfect example of what Belgium is actually famous for: the compromise (and beer, and French fries, the saxophone, Magritte, etc. but that again is another matter).

Having read the above, you will undoubtedly have guessed the consequences of this interesting cocktail. Some five months ago we all did our duty and drifted off to the polling stations one Sunday morning to vote. The elections resulted in a victory for the Christian-Democrats and the Liberals, and a rather devastating defeat for the Socialist Party. (I'm leaving out the Nationalists, because they disgust me anyway). However, it being Belgium, we have Dutch-speaking CD's and Libs, and French-speaking CD's and Libs. And unfortunately they are not seeing eye to eye when it comes to the federation as it stands.

There are mainly two issues:
- the fate of Francophone voters, who live just outside of Brussels, in areas that are in Flemish territory but that have a significant French-speaking population, and who are allowed to vote for French-speaking politicians during their election. It would seem that this little set-up is illegal and thus the Flemish want to abolish it, which they did today (triggering a walk-out by the French MPs after the vote in the parliamentary committee)
- the Flemish want more powers for the regions, in part to do away with the flow of Flemish tax revenue to the poorer Walloon region.

So this whole charade drags on. Those living in Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde and the Brussels-Capital region might disagree with me when I say, oh, for f***'s sake, just get over it? But in view of the rising petrol prices, the cost of living, and a cabinet that cannot take any major decisions, as well as a country that is basically teetering on the edge of a giant abyss, I can only shake my head in disbelief. Belgium, and in this I have to agree with Belgian blogger Gerrit Six, the man who tried to sell Belgium on e-Bay, has so much to offer. I love this country, I love its people (well, most of them), its customs, its food, its beers, its architecture, its art and its museums, its cathedrals, its polders, the Atomium (!), and so much more...

So what do you think, boys and girls (I'm talking to you, Joëlle), can we just get on with it now?

* a word of thanks goes out to Raf Casert of AP, who lives in the affected region, and who also managed to explain it in a KISS way.

2 messages:

Siegfried said...

I have a picture of me at the Atomium on my mantelpiece. Was many years ago mind. Agreed, Belgium is a lovely country. I hope it doesn't disintegrate. We're threatened with such things here to be honest, what with Scottish nationalism.

Lula de Montes said...

I don't know where this is heading at the moment. I know that they are now desperately trying to broker a coalition, but that popular opinion on whether Belgium should continue to exist is at an all-time too low.

I love the Atomium. They've completely revamped it and it has a fab restaurant now with some cool design ;-)

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