What next for Belgium?

While The Observer questions the apparent consensus on the need for austerity in the EU, the next country due to take the EU presidency, Belgium, has been holding parliamentary elections.

Belgium’s Flemish separatist party, the New Flemish Alliance (NVA), has won more than 20% of the vote in parliamentary elections, according to early unofficial results.

If confirmed, the NVA would have the largest share of the vote, bringing the country closer to a split.

But, as RTÉ reports, others are less convinced that a split is on the cards.

Even if the N-VA is confirmed as the leading party in the country of 10.6 million people, which hosts the headquarters of the European Union and the Nato military alliance, it will not be able to start devolving powers to the regions immediately.

‘Belgium is not about to split up, but it is set for a reorganisation,’ said Professor Marc Swyngedouw of the Catholic University of Leuven.

The electoral system – effectively two elections with separate parties seeking votes from French-speakers and the majority Dutch-speakers – means at least four parties will be needed to form a governing coalition.

Parties from poorer French-speaking regions see devolution as a step towards Belgium’s break-up, which they oppose, but all have said they would consider some reform of the state.

The N-VA’s lead in polls triggered a nationwide debate about the possible break-up of the 180-year-old nation, with richer Flanders splitting from Wallonia, where unemployment is about double the national average.

Yves Leterme, the Christian Democrat who won the 2007 election on a pledge to win more powers for Flanders, took nine months to form his five-party government and offered his resignation three times in as many years.

Economists say Belgium cannot afford more tortuous coalition talks, with its debt-to-GDP ratio set to rise above 100% this year or next, the third highest level in Europe behind Greece and Italy.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Of course Norn Iron Elections are also “two” elections.
    Belgium is a artificial state constructed for the purpose of making it difficult for France and Germany (or German States as they then were) to go to War.
    Whether Franco-Prussian War, WW1 or WW2 it has manifestly failed in its purpose. It has no reason to exist.
    And of course the same can be said of the Common Market or whatever it calls itself these days……constructed to keep Germany and France from fighting.
    Its always a good thing to prevent war I suppose but are any of us THAT interested in keeping Germany and France from shooting each other?

  • Drumlin Rock

    yup, one of them might win, they sorta cancel each other out most the time which suits us fine, i’m guessing they will go to the edge then back out with a compromise, the EU for one wont want a split and could threaten to move out!

  • Greenflag

    ‘but are any of us THAT interested in keeping Germany and France from shooting each other?’

    Well if we’re not we should be . In WWI almost 1 million British died including at that time probably 75,000 Irish . In WW2 the British dead amounted to some 300,000 among who were many tens of thousands of Irish .

    If the Belgians cannot agree on their current political framework then repartition could be implemented hiving off part to France and the other half to Holland and it could be done without a shot being fired in anger .

    A precursor and possibly a good model ad example for Northern Ireland at some point down the road when the ‘internal contradictions ‘ become too onerous to bear for both sides .

  • Take step back and think of the general rather than the particular.

    Just as with Unionism, Irish Nationalism – in all it’s forms, one can also get enmeshed in the minutiae of the Belgian national conundrum.

    Is informed, precise analysis of the detail of Belgium, or Ireland, or Northern Ireland of any worth in itself? If it doesn’t at the same time consider the general?

    Consider the overall history of the development of modern nation states; the demise of feudalism and the rise of capitalism; the cyclical crises of capitalist world economics – these are general issues within which the Belgian and Irish issues develop. They are not academic abstractions.

    Reflecting on the Flemish and the Waloons, and their place in European and world events might also make you think of the phrase ‘you can’t see the woods for the trees’?

    Does continual reference to a nationalist navel-gazing outlook get us anywhere?

    People have to eat and gain shelter. They have to live full lives.

    National identity is a form – a historically particular form – of civilized organization. No more than that.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Indeed about 83,000 in WW1 alone.
    Of course while these were “Irishmen” neither WW1 or WW2 involved the “nation” of Ireland.

  • Alias

    The EU was the spawn of Belgium, and the break-up of the EU will follow the break-up of Belgium:

    “Belgians do not like their state. They despise it. They say it represents nothing. There are no Belgian patriots, because no-one is willing to die for a flag which does not represent anything. Because Belgium represents nothing, multicultural ideologues love Belgium. They say that without patriotism, there would be no wars and the world would be a better place. As John Lennon sang “Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.”

    In 1957, Belgian politicians stood at the cradle of the European Union. Their aim was to turn the whole of Europe into a Greater Belgium, so that wars between the nations of Europe would no longer be possible as there would no longer be nations, the latter all having been incorporated into an artificial superstate.” – Paul Belien of The Brussels Journal

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Wrong. As a nation, we have always existed. We just have not always had our own state.

  • fourwinds

    Paul Belien is a Flemish nationalist and takes extreme opinions on a number of topics and anything he writes should be seen in that context. There are plenty of Belgian patriots and there are plenty of Belgian flags on display from peoples apartments around Brussels.

    Most of the people who voted for the NVA don’t want full separation they just want change. The NVA toned down the separatist rhetoric in the run up to the election and this helped them to win moderate votes.

    Although I agree that it will be difficult for Belgium to stay together in the longer term, any separation will be very painful. Many Belgians do care passionately about their state.

  • Alexy Flemming






  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The Irish involvement with the British in WW1 had nothing to do with the ideals, self interests or ethos of the Irish nation.
    The ethos of the Irish nation was on the side of the Germans. who were allied with Irish ideals..British defeat.
    Thats where Irish self interest lay….German victory.

  • Greenflag

    Nonsense . Most of the Irish who ‘volunteered ‘ in World War 1 were answering Redmond’s call . They expected Ireland to be granted ‘Home Rule ‘ after the war . They were sadly disappointed which is why they and the Irish Home Rule Party were shunted aside after 1918 .

  • Greenflag

    ‘Thats where Irish self interest lay….German victory.’

    More nonsense . That I would explain the huge number of Irish prisoners of wars in German who listened to Roger Casement who tried to persuade them to join with the Germans in forming an Irish ‘regiment ‘

    He persuaded 2 out of 2,000 iirc .

  • Drumlin Rock

    One of my ancestors was a Fleming by name, does that make me a little bit Belgian?

  • Greenflag

    ‘nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.”

    Lennon was an optimist . Even without nation states the world’s largest corporations would soon set up private ‘security ‘ forces to protect their investments . They would without poison the poor , and loot and pillage wherever they could . The only reason they don’t do so is because there is still some ‘government ‘ restriction and regulation to keep the greedy bastards in line .

    25 miners died in that recent Kentucky mine disaster – 55,000 miners died in the USA between 1830 and the 1930’s during the time when ‘mining companies were not by law forced to adhere to minimum safety regulations .

  • Greenflag

    It just means that one of your ancestors came over with William the Conqueror as a ‘mercenary ‘ or perhaps they might have been one of the many flemings who immigrated into the London are and farther afield and who were known for their expertise in the wollen trades as ‘middlemen ‘ They also if memory serves me right cornered the ‘brothel ‘ business in London and were known as good mangers and rent payers to the local bishop who rented out his property to them for said purposes .

    They were the victims of occasional pogroms when they got on the wrong side of an outburst of ‘ religious ‘revivalism ‘ when some new curate or other led a holy mob against them unaware that his ‘master’ the Bishop was the main financial beneficiary of the brothel business .;(

    Even the flemings knew that trusting the ‘men of the cloth ‘ could be a double edged sword .
    No different today ;(?

  • Greenflag

    ‘National identity is a form – a historically particular form – of civilized organization. No more than that.’

    That’s certainly true of ‘national identity’ as it pertains to any individual . But the sum total of ‘national identitiesy can become very ‘uncivilized’ ‘ in certain circumstances . These circumstances usually arise when a particular country’s sense of it’s own identity is denied or is perceived to be under threat by a powerful neighbour or by outside aggression .

    Whether Belgium breaks up or not will just involve a few more lines on the map of Europe but a lot fewer than was the case with the former Yugoslavia . And the same will be true of Northern Ireland if and when the ‘cartographers ‘ have to be called in .

    No big deal in the scheme of world events . Just a pimple and not the pox 😉

  • dodrade

    The Flemish nationalists are like the SNP, all mouth and no trousers.

    However, in the unlikely event that Belgium were to break up, who would get Brussels? Largely Francophone but being officially bilingual and an enclave within Flanders, perhaps the only solution would be for it to become sovereign EU territory.

  • Drumlin Rock

    The whole country should adopt English. Problem solved.

  • Drumlin Rock

    think i will go for the mercenaries 🙂