It is 2028. The ice caps are dwindling, Chelsea Clinton continues her parents’ presidential legacy in the White House…and Belgium still awaits a new federal government after elections in June 2007.
Yes, I’m joking. Belgium faces a very difficult situation right now, and many people hope it will get out of its impasse in the coming weeks. But how?
A quick recap: The linguistically-divided country has been without a new government since an election more than five months ago.
The francophone parties and the Flemish groups expected to make up a centre-right coalition just can’t agree on state reform, prompting concerns that the country could break up along its linguistic fault lines.
So, what next?
Either these parties get it together, or they go through the messy process of trying to form a grand coalition with the socialists.
The lengthy negotiations have exposed once again the tensions between wealthy Flanders (the Dutch-speaking, northern region, where calls for independence have grown) and the poorer Francophone south (where support for the federal state is stronger).
I’ve put below the views of one of the FT’s Flemish readers. Here’s the disclaimer: They are not representative of Flemings as a whole, because many in Flanders back the idea of continuing with the federal state and don’t share these opinions. But the comments at least help to illustrate some of the tensions here.
From a reader called Geert:
- As a (democratic) separatist I am of the opinion that any region or people in the world can separate from the state to which the accidents of history has made them belong; hence, it takes 2 to make a pact but only 1 to break it (as in a unhappy marriage – Flemish being fed up now with the apparently eternal inefficiencies and injustices of the Belgian state)
- The francophone minority in Belgium is the best protected in the world; as a democrat I think it is fundamentally undemocratic that almost nothing can be decided in Belgium by simple majority (for minor reforms, double majorities or even double majorities with 2/3 in each of the 2 main language groups in parliament are required, leading to inefficient and unfair stalemate all over)
- Furthermore I do not see a strong link between nationalism surging in Flanders and its prosperity compared to the rest of Belgium: Flemish are not so much proud of Flanders than that they are fed up with lingering poor governance at the central level; requests for devolution and recognition of Dutch as an official language have been a key theme in Flemish politics throughout the 20th century