Belgica omnis divisa est…* Who needs a government?

Belgium divided one year on

Division at the heart of Europe

A strange anniversary today, 13th. June, 2011. Belgium has had no government for one year.

Elections one year ago resulted in an impasse between parties representing north and south; specifically, Flemish nationalists versus Walloon socialists. What divides them is a deep disagreement on  how Belgium should manage its Dutch and French speaking communities.

A Belgian newspaper, ‘Le Soir’, sums up today’s problem:

“Belgium is no longer seen as a marriage but as cohabitation. In the course of a year, the Francophones have come to acknowledge what a majority of Flemings have been telling them for months: we should manage things differently, because our situations, desires and politics are different.”

Paradoxically, the country survives with a caretaker government enacting policies that predate the latest election. As another paper, ‘De Morgen’ comments: “… even after a year without a government, the country is still working, the economy is picking up, and no one has the impression in their immediate social circle that they are living in a failed state.”

And the way out of this? It seems there’s popular agreement that another, snap election would produce the same standoff result – so there’s no point. Instead, there’s a fatalistic attitude on both sides of the fence that “if everything appears to be functioning on autopilot, is there any reason to forgo another few months of stubbornness and resistance to change?”[1]

All this at the administrative heart of the European Union! What a paradox.

Devolution of power the key?

An analysis on the BBC web site provides further information, and suggests that Belgium is surviving in this limbo “… partly because the caretakers and their civil servants are efficient managers, but also because many powers have already been devolved to Belgium’s regional governments and linguistic communities – not to mention the pooling of sovereignty with other members of the eurozone and European Union.”[2]

This may prove a more useful example to the EU as it, seemingly, pursues an unbalanced course of increased ‘harmonising’ and centralisation in key areas – taxation, defence, external policy, to name a few, while appearing to ignore the counterbalance of regional accountability and democracy.

*With apologies to Julius Caesar’s opening to ‘Gallic Wars, Book I’.

Source [1]: presseurope.eu (and others cited)

Source [2]: BBC

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