A piece in the Times of London begins:
All that Belgium wants for Christmas is a government â€” and thousands of people marched through Brussels yesterday to demand that politicians should avoid the break-up of their country.
Yes, Belgium held elections for parliament in June. And, no, there still is not a new coalition in place to govern the country.
The demonstration referred to by the Times is, on one level, a great show of national unity. The Times reports that the demonstrators were:
bedecked with the black, gold and red of the national flag, with not a party affiliation in sight.
In a sign of the division between the two main language communities, there were noticeably more French-speaking marchers than those from the Flemish north, where support for national unity is more ambivalent.
The “Czechoslovakia option” is being discussed in the newspapers,1 and as the VOA reports, the impasse over coalition formation is indeed related to classic issues of federalism: how to divide the national wealth and the extent to which citizens of a richer region perceive themselves to be subsidizing the less wealthy citizens in other units of the federation.
Huge obstacles remain and neither side is budging. Flemish parties insist that regional governments must have more autonomy. With 60 percent of the population, Flanders generates 70 percent of Belgium’s Gross Domestic Product. The Dutch speaking area wants to retain more power and tax money, rather than sending it south.
Wallonia’s politicians are resisting this, partly because they see it as the first step toward dividing the country, which Walloons oppose in large numbers.
Just to keep things interesting, Angus Reid has asked people in the Netherlands if they would welcome Flanders back into the fold. They are “divided” on the question.
Thanks to AndrÃ©s for sending me the first item linked above.
- Then what to do with Brussels, which is mixed linguistically, unlike Prague, the former Czecho-Slovak capital. Brussels and Prague. Two of my favorite cities, and no, that is not only for the beer. But the beer is a major consideration, for sure. [↩]