This is a guest planting by Tom Round.
â€¦. The current crisis dates from June 10, when the Flemish Christian Democrats, who demand greater autonomy for Flanders, came in first with one-fifth of the seats in Parliament. Yves Leterme, the party leader, would have become prime minister if he had been able to put together a coalition government. But he was rejected by French speakers because of his contempt for them – an oddity since his own father is a French speaker. He further alienated them, and even some moderate Flemish leaders, on Belgiumâ€™s national holiday, July 21, when he appeared unable – or unwilling – to sing Belgiumâ€™s national anthem.
Belgiumâ€™s mild-mannered, 73-year-old king, Albert II, has struggled to mediate, even though under the Constitution he has no power other than to appoint ministers and rubber-stamp laws passed by Parliament. He has welcomed a parade of politicians and elder statesmen to the Belvedere palace in Brussels, successively appointing four political leaders to resolve the crisis. All have failed.
On one level, there is normalcy and calm here. The country is governed largely by a patchwork of regional bureaucracies, so trains run on time, mail is delivered, garbage is collected, the police keep order.
Officials from the former government – including former Prime Minister Guy Verhhofstadt, who is ethnically Flemish – report for work every day and continue to collect salaries. The former government is allowed to pay bills, carry out previously decided policies and make urgent decisions on peace and security.
Earlier this month, for example, the governing Council of Ministers approved the deployment of 80 to 100 peacekeeping troops to Chad and a six-month extension for 400 Belgian peacekeepers stationed in Lebanon under United Nations mandates. But a new government will be needed to approve a budget for next yearâ€¦
– Elaine Sciolino, â€œCalls for a Breakup Grow Ever Louder in Belgium,â€ New York Times (21 September 2007).
Sciolino goes on to mention that:
The turning point is widely believed to have been last December when RTBF, a French-language public television channel, broadcast a hoax on the breakup of Belgium. The two-hour live television report showed images of cheering, flag-waving Flemish nationalists and crowds of French-speaking Walloons preparing to leave, while also reporting that the king had fled the country. Panicked viewers called the station, and the prime ministerâ€™s office condemned the program as irresponsible and tasteless. But for the first time, in the public imagination, the possibility of a breakup seemed real.
Is this the most famous example of a television program changing politics since Indian TVâ€™s dramatising the â€œRamayanaâ€ helped (it is said) rekindle voter support for the BJP?
As noted, the above is by frequent propagator, Tom Round. He correctly noted that there is (or was) no Belgium (or, more generally, Benelux) thread at F&V. While there had been previous threads on the Netherlands, I do believe this entry by Tom is the first on Belgium. How I failed to note the Belgian election earlier this year is quite a mystery.–MSS