Sarah Laitner has an interesting piece in today’s Financial Times about the Balkanization of Belgium.
Belgium, divided between Flanders, its wealthy Dutch-speaking north, and francophone Wallonia in the south, has chugged along without a new federal government for a record 165 days. Since elections in June, the bickering parties in a centre-right would-be coalition have failed to form an administration.
The main dispute is over calls by the Flemish majority for more self-rule. The wrangling across the language divide has renewed concerns that the country might break up along its linguistic fault lines.
Who cares? So far, the impasse has barely affected ordinary Belgians. To foreigners who lampoon the country and pass through it to reach its bigger neighbours, the scrap is arcane. The fact that Yves Leterme, prime minister designate, last year branded Belgium an accident of history and a facetious citizen tried recently to sell the country on Ebay only added to a sense of farce.
But the travails highlight fears that a tradition of compromise underpinning Belgium’s complex political system is fraying. In parts of the EU, the public identifies more and more with its region. As a result, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have secured more powers within the UK and new authorities have been conferred to Spanish, Italian and French local levels. Montenegro declared independence last year and the next addition to Europe’s list of micro-states may be Kosovo.
A Belgian official says: “In a lot of EU member states there is alienation towards the Union and national governments, because people think that the decision-making has become too complex.” He adds: “We will have a general movement in countries, giving more power to local and regional authorities. In that way, Belgium is a laboratory for what’s to come.”
Belgium, which provides the European Union with its capital, has survived while other patchwork countries such as Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union have bitten the dust. However, Caroline SÃ¤gesser, analyst at Crisp, a Brussels-based centre for sociopolitical research, says: “Government-forming talks are often lengthy in Belgium. But the fact that these negotiations are so long shows that it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach a compromise after each federal election.”
Much more in the piece, which I commend to you.
What’s particularly interesting is that this is happening in the place where Europe’s two great institutions, the EU and NATO, make their home. The reality, though, is that the move toward “Europe” makes “Belgium” much less necessary as a construct.
“Balkanization” is generally considered a bad thing, since countries that are too small have difficulty sustaining themselves. But there’s not much reason for culturally and linguistically divided regions to share local sovereignty while delegating economic, foreign affairs, and military sovereignty to multinational entities.
via OTB News
Second image courtesy FT Foodies Club.