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Belgium – Broken Heart Of Europe?

  • October 26th, 2008
  • Posted by Guillaume Benoist

brussels-corridor.jpgConflicts between the two language communities of Belgium (French and Flemish) are important not only for that small country but also for Europe – and some proposed new local government boundaries have been stirring up debate.

OLD CONFLICTS REVIVED
National conflicts opposing the French speaking Wallons and the Dutch speaking Flemish are not recent, but they have been getting worse.

The introduction of a federal system with the new Century has seen the differences put into even stronger focus.

The more prosperous Flanders wants to exercise yet more state authority, and resents the devotion of national resources to social needs in Wallonia, and so there is talk of divorce – an end to Belgium itself.

In such a climate both of these regional communities have been manoeuvering to get their hands on Belgium’s capital, Brussels, to see it included as a confirmed part of their own provincial territory.

Brussels today has its own regional government, but it is a mostly French-speaking area, surrounded by the territory of Flanders — as a region bigger in size than Wallonia.
FIGHT GOES LOCAL

The battle for Brussels, of late, has moved to Uccle, a suburban zone in the city’s South with 75954 registered inhabitants.

It is one of the nineteen municipalities contained within the city region, and it’s officially Francophone – most of its generally affluent inhabitants being French-speakers.

In recent times the local Uccle council has been proposing the construction of a corridor which would link the municipality, and therefore all of Brussels, with Wallonia. (See sketch above; Brussels connecting to the Wallonia border, to the South)

It would be a pathway approximately 2.5 km long through woodlands called the foret de Soignes.

Obviously achievement of this innocent and local facility would have the great implication of “relocating” Brussels, from Flanders to Wallonia; Flemish community leaders understandably enough are adverse to the change, promising its proponents more than a few days in the constitutional courts.
WHAT KIND OF FUTURE?

There are many different possibilities for the communities living on both sides, in the event that Belgium should decide to break up.

Some of them are that the Flemish would join the Netherlands and the Walloons the French; Flanders might want to become an independent country; or Brussels could be independent from both as capital of the European Union — a “European Canberra, or Brasilia, or Washington D.C’’!

In Brussels itself there are deep concerns that the stability of Belgium represents the stability of the EU.

The European project has been to bring the different member nations closer together, and the break up of a foundation member, Belgium, in the heart of the EU, might be feared as a portend of collapse for Europe itself.

Philippe Moreau-Defarges, European specialist at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) talks about a major dilemma:

“The Europeans states have an important interest to stop the bursting apart of Belgium, at the heart of the EU, but how would democratic states be able to oppose Flanders asking, democratically, to create its own state?’’

Belgians as nationalists fought against Napolean at Waterloo (a battlefield very close to Uccle, as it happens). The country achieved independence in 1829 as an amalgam of Catholic peoples of the Low Countries, but in the industrial revolution, Wallonia became the dominant economic region – and the hegemony of a French-speaking elite became a grievance in Flanders. Tables turned with the decline of second industry and the end of empire in the Congo; Flanders is today the wealthier side of the country.

brussels-world-map.jpgBelgium – twice invaded and occupied by Germany – had no guarantee of integrity even as late as 1942. A proposed new European map allegedly endorsed by America’s wartime President, FD Roosevelt, accepted a divided Europe, and drew in the territory of Belgium as a part of France. It was an idea seen by Europeans of the time as more convenient to the Americans than themselves; Belgium instead emerged as one of the six original partners in the embryonic EU.

Europeans now may be again crossing their fingers for a sensible outcome to an old and severe problem.

Reference:

Palimpsestes 2 – http://www.palimpsestes2.wordpress.com

les carnets de clarisse – http://www.lescarnestdeclarisse.fr

Pictures:

Sketch for the corridor linking Uccle to Wallonia

Hypothetical map of post World War II Europe, Belgium incorporated into France

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