It’s more than one hundred days now that there was a general election in
Actually, as an investment in peace, the state of Belgium is redeemed.
You may want see my book on the matter:
Large Empires, Small Nations.
The Uncertain Future of the
Rein Taagepera said...
Yes, it's quite likely.
returning to Irvine on 21 Sept.
I tend to disagree with your appreciation of the present Belgian crisis for several reasons.
1) to present the role of the Brussels Region as a ‘intermediate and balancing role’ in the Flemish/Walloon rivalry – as I understood from your text – is, in my opinion, an overstatement. In my perception of everyday politics, Brussels Region has only a mild and limited influence on the rivalry, since its jurisdiction does not include volatile issues. Besides, both the Flemish and the Francophone Community remain responsible for the personal/individual matters of the(ir) inhabitants of the Region (which resulted in several conflicts over the years and lead to a closer cooperation/coordination as a result);
2) to portray Brussels as a ‘French-speaking and Flemish-surrounded’ region may be the dream of both Francophone and Flemish nationalists but hardly a reality. Recent research shows that just about half of the people living in Brussels are unilingual French. English and Arab are fast catching up with French. Flemish/Dutch stays a minority but official language. Brussels is Flemish-surrounded in theory, but not in practice: one of the basic reasons for the present political ‘crisis’ is precisely that the Francophone parties don’t want to split Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde as a constituency (as required by the constitution) because it would cost them a lot of votes from Francophones living in the ‘Flemish’ cities.
3) who would have the sovereignty over Brussels D.C.? Whilst Washington D.C. has a special status in the USA, it remains part of the American state. Brussels is important both for Belgium and the two regions alike (for Flanders because it is the administrative and political center of the Flemish government: for Wallonia because a lot of inhabitants are part of the French Community and are looking towards the South). An agreement on Brussels would even be, in my opinion, more difficult than an agreement on the future of Belgium (e.g. about 300.000 Flemish people work in Brussels; their income taxes now go to the federal government. Where would these taxes go if independent Flanders and Wallonia would administer Brussels together?). Besides, Brussels as a (European) federal district would have the symbolic connotation of the coming into being of a ‘United States of Europe’ or differently put: a truly federal Europe.
The good thing about the present crisis is that separation/independence (and more specifically: the practical realities of it) are discussed in mainstream media. The abstract idea of ‘Flemish independence’ – as put forward by Flemish nationalists – is made concrete: the economic cost (division of debt, division of real estate and moveable goods, the losses for the industry, …) and gains are all discussed in popular media (and presumably at the kitchen table or in the pub). Again, I guess it will take more time, more efforts and more heated and infinite discussion to come to an agreement on independence than it will take time to form a government which comes up with a feasible compromise. Besides, it took/takes the Czech (!) and Dutch government even longer to form a government.
The present political crisis is in my opinion a result of Belgium being an incomplete federal state: politicians (in both units) need to find the courage to complete the federalization of Belgium (e.g. reform of the legislative system and allocation of powers). Belgium as a federal state surely has a future: even hardcore Flemish nationalists would agree on that.
Pieterjan De Vlieger
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Joan Costa Font said...
Absolutely agree in that small state federations are likely to fall apart especially if differences in language and culture stand behind. But, polarisation and a general inability of the federation to accomodate wide differences in preferences and values can well take place in assymetrically large federations( e.g., Catalonia). May be the problem then is that assymetrcal federalism is a myth of political scientists, rather that a feasible (real life) institutional option ( in cultutally heterogenenous states).
London School of Economics