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No end in sight for Belgian political chaos
by Newropeans-Magazine
2010-09-04 08:15:43
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When I disembarked from the plane to my new country of residency I learned that it is one step closer to not being a country for much longer. The government talks following June's election have collapsed – meaning the country still has no government and is unlikely to be able to form one before the end of the year. Not such great timing considering Belgium still holds the EU rotating presidency for the next 4 months.

But even if that extra responsibility weren’t sitting on the Belgian government’s shoulders right now, this continuing chaos is starting to border on Kafka-esque absurdity. So as I readjust to life in Belgium, I’m yet again left asking – is there a compelling reason for this country to continue to exist?

The leader of the French-speaking Socialist Party (PS), Elio di Rupo, offered his resignation to Belgian King Albert II after negotiations to form a new government broke down. He is trying to negotiate with the Flemish separatist party NVA, which won the majority of the vote in Flanders in the June election. Di Rupo’s Socialists won the majority of votes in Wallonia, and so the two parties with directly opposing goals must come to some kind of coalition agreement to form a national government with other parties. In the mean time, no government has existed at national level since April. But since most governance functions have by now been devolved to the three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels), you’d never know the difference.

The King refused to accept Di Rupo's resignation, so the socialist leader announced today he will carry on trying to form a coalition. He is really in an impossible situation, because he is being asked to form a consensus between parties that have completely diverging goals. The NVA, led by Bart De Wever, wants a gradual dissolution of the Belgian state over the next decade, with more and more powers transferred to the regions over time until the country is eventually dissolved. Their main concern is that they are tired of wealthy Flanders having to subsidize poor Wallonia, and they want to be able to keep the tax money they contribute for themselves rather than having it go toward subsidizing the large number of unemployed people in Brussels and Wallonia. On the other hand, Di Rupo’s Walloon socialists do not want Belgium to be dissolved, and they do not want to start on a road toward that dissolution by ceding more powers to the regions. They also know that without tax contributions from the Flemish, the social welfare state in Wallonia would collapse.

All of this fighting over the future of Belgium takes place in the context of a public debt that is projected to rise to over 100% of GDP this year. Austerity measures similar to those being pursued elsewhere in Europe are badly needed, and quickly. But with the national government unable to do anything until a coalition is formed, its hands will be tied over the coming months both in dealing with the public debt and in steering the EU presidency.

For Belgium the situation isn’t just embarrassing any more, it has become dangerous. Speaking after this meeting with the king, di Rupo said the country is on the brink of political chaos. With both sides refusing to budge, it’s unclear what’s going to happen next. 


Dave Keating
London, UK

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