A Guide To The Political Impasse That Could Tear Belgium Apart


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Belgium has survived over a year with no government.The country is locked in a centuries old dispute between the Dutch-speaking North and the French-speaking South.

However, this is about more than just language — and it could have big implications for Europe.

Belgium was founded after the 1830 Belgian Revolution.

The country was founded as a Catholic, French-speaking state under King Leopald I. Until this date the area had formed parts of various kingdoms and empires, most recently coming under the power of the Dutch and, before that, the French.


The industrial revolution caused a rift between the Flemish and the Walloons.

The Francophone Wallonia areas became urbanized as part of an industrial boom in the 18th and 19th centuries, while the Dutch-speaking Flemish areas remained largely agricultural. In the 20th century, the situation began to reverse and Flemish areas had their own economic boom, leading to huge population growth.


Historical differences eventually caused political reform.

Linguistic differences were reinforced by cultural and economic differences. In the 1960s a formal linguistic border was created, eventually resulting for autonomic political power for the Flemish North and the Walloons in the South, with power also devolved for Eastern German-speaking areas and the mixed area of Brussels.


Flemish and Waloon parties had generally shared office in coalitions...

...but the structure began to break down in 2007, when the parties took over 9 months to form a government.

This coalition lasted 3 years, during which time current EU President Herman Van Rompuy was Prime Minister.


After Yves Leterme's government collapsed in April 2010, an election was held.

The Francophone Socialist (PS) and Flemish Nationalist (N-VA) parties won the largest proportion of seats during parliamentary elections. The election saw a huge surge of support for the N-VA, who campaigned on the issue of regional autonomy.

The parties could not find a compromise on policy issues and as yet have not formed a government, leaving Yves Leterme in charge of an interim government.


Elio di Rupo is the leader of the Wallonian Socialists.

Rupo is a gay man with a penchant for red bow ties. He's firmly opposed to Flemish calls for more federalism.


His Flemish counterpart, Bart de Wever, is head of the N-VA.

De Wever is seen by many to be the man pushing the crisis further. The Flemish leader would like to abolish the Belgium monarchy, and maybe one day see an independent Flemish state.

A nationalist, De Wever taps into the Flemish discontent that their strong economy is supporting unemployment and government inefficiency in Southern Belgium.


Here's a quote from an interview De Wever gave to Der Spiegel last year.

'I'm not a revolutionary, and I'm not working toward the immediate end of Belgium. And I don't have to do that, either, because Belgium will eventually evaporate of its own accord. What we Flemish want is to be able to control our own judiciary, as well as our fiscal and social policy. We feel that foreign policy is in better hands with the European Union. But the nation of Belgium has no future in the long run. It is too small for greater political ambitions, and it's too heterogeneous for smaller things like taxes and social issues.'


The country has set a Guinness World Record for the longest time in modern history that a country has been without an official government

Beating the previous winner, Iraq.


While day-to-day life still runs normally, this could cause wider problems.

Ratings agency Fitch recently lowered it's outlook on Belgium to 'negative'.

Perhaps even worse is that one option for resolving the impasse -- the dissolution of the interim parliament and new elections -- may be too big a risk for such a key player in Eurozone at this time.


And with a debt of 96% of GDP, they are in a lot of danger themselves.


The situation is being watched very closely.

There's a number of regions that would like to break away and form their own countries in Europe, notably Scotland and the Basque areas of Spain/France. For them, the Flemish case offers hope.

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