Are you ready for the exciting world of Belgian politics? In a comment on Zuuko’s post below, I complain that in the developed world, different ways of running societies aren’t really being tried. Well, Belgium might be a bright light in that regard. Unfortunately they don’t have anything truly interesting like government-sanctioned muggings and politicians fitted with bombs which are activated by low approval ratings (like on Planet Tranai in Robert Sheckley’s fantastic story), or everyone undergoing daily changes in occupation (like on Panta in Stanislaw Lem’s also fantastic story). Instead, they have a country running on auto-pilot because they’ve been unable to form a government for 15 months. John Lanchester in the London Review of Books points out that this actually seems to be preferable, in terms of economic performance, to having any other government in Europe, in that the other governments are empowered to do stuff like pass austerity packages.
However, the relatively-not-so-bad times might be coming to an end as the caretaker and former Prime Minister, Yves Leterme moves on. Things are sure to be interesting as all hell breaks loose in a typically Belgian (polite, minor and inconsequential) manner.
Ingrid Robeyns is pessimistic that Belgium can stick together over the long term because the flemings and walloons just don’t get along and have “nothing in common.” I kind of think the King, the soccer team, beer, waffles, chocolate, and Brussels is a pretty good start. It’s more than Canadians have in common, for instance. In any case, seeing as Brussels is mostly francophone but sits inside Flanders, splitting will be difficult.
What few enough people say is that the reason for 15 months of no government and years of interregional resentment is that the Belgian political system is seemingly created to foster it. First and foremost is the fact that even though Belgium is a multilingual country, Belgian political parties are monolingual. By law. Say you wanted to start a party and have it have candidates in both the Dutch-speaking parts and the French-speaking parts. Well you couldn’t. Or say you wanted to vote for the socialists. If you were in Flanders, you’d vote for sp.a, if you were in Wallonia, you’d vote for PS, and hope that they came to an agreement in parliament. Only, since interregional issues are a big deal in Belgium, these parties might actually not come to agreement. I know that if I were trying to reduce political fractiousness among two groups of people, “make sure they can’t vote for the same party” would be the first principle I’d follow, so it’s good to see Belgium doing just that. Brussels, being the capital, is for everyone, so you can vote for either set of parties there, even though the place is 85% francophone.
The Brussels periphery (BHV), though, is part of Flanders. Because some of these peripheral towns are 50% or more francophone, they used to be able to vote for francophone parties in some of these places. However, flemings complained and this was ruled illegal. So now, if you’re a francophone living in Hal, you have your pick of parties which will try to secede from Belgium and force you to do everything in Dutch! The party with the most seats in Flanders is NVA, which split from the Leterme-led coalition last election because he was not pro-Flemish enough. Leterme, of course, is the recalcitrant walloono-/francophile that claimed francophones didn’t learn Dutch because they were
stupid “intellectually incapable”…
Since the parties are monolingual and Flanders is (slightly) bigger than Wallonia, flemish parties have more representation. As a result, there hasn’t been a francophone leader of Belgium since a freak socialist government for about 15 months more than 35 years ago. Obviously, it’s the flemings who are feeling mistreated and are agitating for a split. Which brings me to this opinion: the flemings are basically wrong about everything.
By the way, commenters on the Robeyns post talk about the possibility of Wallonia joining France and Flanders going to the Netherlands (and comment that flemings might be too proud to do so). Note that newspapers in the Netherlands, seemed to me very strongly pro-francophone faction. I am guessing that public opinion cuts the same way. I doubt it’s a matter of Flanders being too proud to join the Netherlands – I just don’t think the Netherlands would take them.