As of yesterday Belgium set a new record: it has gone for the longest time in its history without forming a government. It has been 150 days since the elections in June, and still no government in sight, with the Flemish and Wallonian legislators from the major parties unable to compromise and form a coalition.
The Belgian political icepack, which has been frozen in place for decades, seems to be shifting at last. Today’s vote to reconfigure several electoral districts in the Brussels metropolitan area shows that the Flemings are finally willing to use their political muscle.
This morning a Flemish contact sent us this message about the situation:
Vlaams Belang just announced that the Parliamentary Commission for Internal Affairs has voted to split the electoral constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde according to the Belgian constitution. The previous arrangement acted as an electoral wedge for the Walloons, and was finally rejected by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
As Paul Belien wrote in Brussels Journal on 23 August: “[Brussels], which is historically Dutch, is a bilingual enclave surrounded by the Halle-Vilvoorde district of the Flemish province of Brabant. At present Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) is one large, single electoral constituency. Flanders wants to assume full autonomy over Halle and Vilvoorde, and demands that these two Flemish towns and the surrounding Flemish villages are split off from bilingual Brussels. This is […] being vetoed by the Walloon parties, although four years ago the Constitutional Court of Belgium, with 50% French-speaking judges, ruled that the present situation is unconstitutional and that BHV should be split by July 2007.”
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Following the last elections this reform has been one of the most pressing demands of the Flemish representatives during the process of forming a new Federal Government; the Walloon representatives have tried to offset this demand by insisting on “compensations” before allowing the vote. Amazingly enough, and after 150 days of wrangling, the Flemish representatives have finally broken with their (in)famous tradition of trading away huge concessions for token “victories” by simply using their numeric majority to vote the measure. VB reports that when it became clear around 14:30 local time that the vote would proceed, The Walloon representatives left the proceedings, while only one Flemish party (Groen!) did not vote for the measure. The Walloon parties are now meting separately to determine how to proceed.
While to American eyes this may appear to be a simple gerrymandering issue, in the context of the political power structure in Belgium this is a momentous development because the Flemish parliamentary majority has never used its numerical power this way. The next hurdle is the negotiation over further gvernment rform (from the Flemish perspective, transferring more Federal responsibilities to the regional governments). It’s quite possible that today was the first step towards eventual Flemish independence.
Go Flanders! Go Vlaams Belang! Proud to be Dutch. Cc.
If and when Belgium splits, whither the EU? Will they move the toy parliament to Strasbourg permanently? The germans wouldn’t like that…
If Belgium splits into two states, this would call into question not merely the status of Brussels as the headquarters of the European Union, but also its status as the headquarters for NATO. From my perspective, there is a certain beauty to Prague becoming the headquarters for NATO and the EU, for it would be a more central location given the frontiers of each organization.
If the Flemish region does secede, one would hope that Belgians would be able to keep Arabic from becoming one of the official languages of the realm. That said, it should be remembered that French (and not Flemish) was the official language of the Belgian Congo. This should be considered when Belgium eventually refunds the reparations extracted by King Leopold II from the people of “Congo Free State”.
Thanks for posting my little write-up – and thanks to Christine at CVF for passing it on! And, I promise to slow down a little and proofread before pushing the button…
I had fully expected the Flemish representatives to fold, as they always have. That they didn’t reveals how strong Flemish public opinion and VB’s unrelenting pressure really are.
However, I should point out that this demonstration of apparent spinal fortitude only resulted in the passing of a measure that had already been deemed to be a constitutional necessity. As welcome as it was, this pushback against Walloon colonial arrogance must now be followed by steady pressure to devolve Federal responsibilities to the respective regions. In taxes, employment, welfare, justice, immigration, economy, and who knows how many more aspects that govern daily life, Flanders is repeatedly held hostage to a construct that actively pursues opposing interests. Flanders must now force a devolution of powers (and funding) to allow the region to develop according to the interests of its inhabitants, or declare independence. Unless Walloon politicians can break their habit of simply demanding what they want without offering anything of substance in return, I suspect the latter option is the more likely.
While your “average” Fleming casts a somewhat cynical eye towards “past glories” I wish more of them would recall that declaring independence from failed rulers is something of a tradition for them. As a medieval county, Flanders may have been ruled by others – but always at the sufferance of its inhabitants (both nobles and citizens of means). On assuming his position, each new ruler had to publicly submit to what amounts to government by consent. This was no mere pomp and pageantry; failure to follow through cost one uppity Count (the unfortunatley named Count William Clito) his life when his punitive expedition ended in defeat at the hands of the Ghent militia in 1128. When Philip II of Spain became the new ruler of the Dutch States (which included Flanders) he tried to introduce Absolutism; the States rebelled and in 1581 drafted a “statement of separation” listing the various legal reasons why they were, in fact, firing Philip as ruler of their territories. The unhappy consequence was the Eighty Years War, but it ended in the Treaty of Utrecht which enshrined the concepts related to the idea “nation”.
Thanks for your insight into Belgian History & politics. I fear even the older set (in the US at least) didn’t get every last detail they’d like out of their History classes, so every little bit is a joy to read.
And don’t sweat the “preview” portion…we understand the evil of urgent/timely submission and our eyes will adjust accordingly for you! We are just thankful to obtain the real news from “other parts” accompanied by pertinent History…VITAL. Much Thanks.
My little romp through history is very abridged… But I suspect there may be quite a bit of interest in background, so I’ll dig through my files to see what I can translate. I seem to remember that Paul Belien wrote an article in Brussels Journal some years ago to make a comparison between Flemish and American democracy and republicanism; it describes the events I alluded to in a lot more detail. If you’re a fan of the intricacies (and that’s putting it mildly) of Medieval politics, here’s the link: http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/58
The “Statement of Seperation” (also called Act of Abjuration) ProFlandria mentions in his post is actually very interesting since the king of Belgium yesterday dictated the Flemish people to drop their urgent request for reforms. The first sentence in this statement is: “As it is apparent to all that a prince is constituted by God to be ruler of a people, to defend them from oppression and violence as the shepherd his sheep; and whereas God did not create the people [as] slaves to their prince, to obey his commands, whether right or wrong, but rather the prince for the sake of the subjects (without which he could be no prince) (…)”*
In an sane world, Belgium would be allowed to divide, and its constiuent parts could have independence, or join with France or the Netherlands, or whatever. That’s popular sovereignty.
But in the never-never land of modern lawyers and superbureaucrats — the EU, UN and hte rest of the alphabet soup boys — that will never, never be allowed to happen. The bureaucrats will simply elect themselves a new people, and Belgium will go on regardless of what anybody else may want.
I don’t think the Flemish will ever vote to unite with the Hollanders, El Jefe. They seem to feel the same as they did when I lived there briefly in the 80s. Some were still using the old term for the Dutch: Jan Kees, “Johnny Cheese”–it’s where the term ‘Yankee’ comes from, but means more or less the same as ‘red neck’: unsophisticated and worse………
If the Slovaks and Slovenes and even the ‘Macedonians’ can have their own country, so should the Flemings
From my own experience the Dutch and Femish people get along together very well. But I don’t think uniting with the Netherlands would do Flanders any good at all.
The Netherlands isn’t stable at the moment (assassinations of Fortuyn and Van Gogh, recent Amsterdam-riots, etc) and is ruled by a leftist government that, by pumping up any tax imaginable, expanding the multiculturalist agenda and turning a blind eye to the erosion of law and justice, might well cause the Netherlands heading for its own rough ride in the near future.