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Belgium: Right Royal Mess

  • December 30th, 2010
  • Posted by 7thmin

belgium-countryside-004.jpgThe country of Belgium has come to notice as the year ends, on the grounds that as a democracy at the heart of Europe – the European “capital” – it has been itself spectacularly unable to form an actual government.

brussels-grand-place2.jpegLOG-JAM

Since inconclusive elections in June, Belgium has had a caretaker Ministry not able to forge solutions for opportunities or threats, not least the struggle to get out of economic recession, and its part in the potentially paralysing problems in Europe with sovereign debt.

Albert II, King of the Belgians, declared on Christmas Eve it was all too much, and time for unity to emerge.

Against the efforts of His Majesty to inspire, the problem of his realm is entrenched: the contest of wills over the language divide, between Flemish-speaking Flanders, and French-speaking Wallonia.

Mostly French-speaking Brussels is surrounded by a Flemish province, and the battles rage over such issues as forcing speakers at local Council meetings around the fringe of the city to work in other-than their mother tongue language.

Efforts to create a nominal territorial link between Brussels and France became the subject of extensive court action. (See EUAustralia, “Belgium: Broken heart of Europe?”, 26.10.08).

brussels-street-cafe2.jpgTHREE-YEARS’ PROBLEM

Belgium’s double-set of political parties, separate Flemish and Francophone Christian Democrats, or Socialists, and so forth, have not found a way to make an effective compromise this time.

The country is peaceful and public administration  runs on rational lines, but the sense of attrition is clear, as attempts at forming stable coalitions have been failing since well before the last elections — for almost the last three years.

Usual political differences, over money or belief, are compounded in Belgium by the changing fortunes of the communities, (the elite used to be almost exclusively French speaking; economic and demographic change has since seen Flemish dominance in much economic and social life).

JOKES AND NO-JOKES

eurobook-cover-trim.jpgDifferences can be found within the differences; for example, one Francophone person might talk fondly of a link someday with France; another will say “jamais” to that – never ever.

Jokes abound: the two parts of Belgium have been left with each other because of a certain disdain for the neighbours: the Dutch too “Nordic”, the French,  too “latin”.

In seriousness, the national dilemma as another year approaches  has deep historical roots, and makes outsiders wonder.

In commentary from Russia, not itself quite the leader in European democratic  practice, Pravda this week worked towards a conclusion others were talking of as well: “Belgium has been virtually canceled”.

Reference

Expatica.com, Amsterdam, “Belgian king issues Christmas plea for unity”, 24.12.10. http://www.expatica.com/be/news/belgian-news/belgian-king-issues-christmas-plea-for-unity_119503.html, (29.12.10).

Le Monde, Paris, La Belgique est privée de coalition gouvernementale depuis deux cents jours, (Belgium deprived of a government for 20 days), 28.12.10. www.lemonde.fr, (29.12.10).

Vadim Trukhachev, “Belgium has been virtually canceled”,    Pravda, Moscow, 21.12.10. http://english.pravda.ru/world/europe/21-12-2010/116291-belgium-0/, (29.12.10).

Pictures

Peaceful countryside masks tensions; Brussels, “capital of Europe”;European Commission, Brussels.

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