Monday, December 03, 2007

Whither Belgium?

Nowhere very far and not very fast either would be the answer to that question. Yesterday the man who would be Prime Minister of that ill-fated country has decided that he has better things to do with his time than play Belgian politics.

According to the Observer:
Yves Leterme, the Flemish Christian Democrat leader who emerged strongest from general elections in June, went to the royal palace in Brussels to tell King Albert he had had enough.

The King accepted Leterme's resignation, but left open the key question of what happens next in the effort to secure a consensus between the country's bitterly divided Dutch-speaking Flemish and francophone Walloon communities.
We have followed the saga of the Belgian government or rather non-government, most recently here and we still cannot understand what all the fuss is about. Let’s be reasonable. Belgium has a perfectly good government. It is the one we all have and it, too, happens to be situated in Brussels.

Furthermore, what is left to the Belgian government is almost entirely devolved to the three federal powers. Of them, it is two, Flanders and Wallonia that really matter. More on Brussels, the third, in a minute.
In addition to the extensive autonomy already exercised by the two regions, the Flemish side is demanding greater powers over taxation and social security, powers that would further impoverish Wallonia, impinge on national solidarity and probably hasten the slow-motion death of a country created by the great European powers in 1830.
Once again, the mourning tone is unimpressive. If Flanders acquiring greater powers over taxation and social security will impoverish Wallonia, then clearly the Flemish have a point when they say that they are keeping the country’s economy going and the Walloons leech off them.

As for national solidarity, if it really had existed, this messy situation would never have arisen.

Over at Brussels Journal, as one would imagine, a great deal of attention has been paid to the so-called crisis, when M Paul Belien does not advertise his extremely prescient book, “A Throne in Brussels”. Shocking. We would never do such a thing on this blog.

In the course of writing two somewhat idiotic quotes from Joshua Keating, who appears to know next to nothing about European history but propounds on it, anyway, there is a reference to M Belien wondering at an early stage of the crisis about the media ignoring this “slow-motion Yugoslavia”.

Well, to be fair, the media across Europe ignored the fast-track Yugoslavia as well with the crisis building up in the late eighties until there was an explosion, first of all in Kosovo, then Slovenia, moving on to Croatia, then Bosnia and back to Kosovo. It took ten years and was eventually settled rather uncertainly by NATO led by the United States.

So we still have a long way to go and because this crisis may not be quite so bloody, it is reasonable to assume that the Americans will leave it to the Europeans to sort out. This could be another one of Europe’s hours, as the Luxembourg Foreign Minister, Jacques Poos described the Balkan wars of the nineties.

There is a good reason why the United States should start thinking about the Belgian crisis. If the country falls apart, Flanders will manage quite well either as part of Netherlands or independently. Wallonia may have to join France, who has expressed no desire for this outcome whatsoever. So, it may have to become an EU mandated territory, kept and run by some off-shoot of the Commission. This might be just the thing the Fragrant Commissar needs to occupy the grey fluff she calls her mind.

Then there is Brussels, the home of the EU government. That, I fear, will have to become an international city, administered by BFOR (Brussels Force) and, possibly, divided into various parts the way Berlin and Vienna were after WWII. A remake of “The Third Man” with various well-known Brussels landmarks could be quite a hit.

There is one problem. One of the institutions whose headquarters is in Brussels is NATO. Assuming the Americans will retain some residual interest in that body, they will have to move HQ out of the divided international city to a friendly pro-American one. Copenhagen would be one possibility with the pro-American Rasmussen having been re-elected again.

We also have a problem with Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), relocated to near Mons in 1967 when France withdrew from NATO’s military structure. Mons is in Wallonia and if the province becomes independent, may well remain as one of the few income-generators there. But what if Wallonia becomes part of France? These things need to be thought about now.

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