All we want is a government

A piece in the Times of London begins:

All that Belgium wants for Christmas is a government — and thousands of people marched through Brussels yesterday to demand that politicians should avoid the break-up of their country.

Yes, Belgium held elections for parliament in June. And, no, there still is not a new coalition in place to govern the country.

The demonstration referred to by the Times is, on one level, a great show of national unity. The Times reports that the demonstrators were:

bedecked with the black, gold and red of the national flag, with not a party affiliation in sight.

Then again:

In a sign of the division between the two main language communities, there were noticeably more French-speaking marchers than those from the Flemish north, where support for national unity is more ambivalent.

The “Czechoslovakia option” is being discussed in the newspapers, ((Then what to do with Brussels, which is mixed linguistically, unlike Prague, the former Czecho-Slovak capital. Brussels and Prague. Two of my favorite cities, and no, that is not only for the beer. But the beer is a major consideration, for sure.)) and as the VOA reports, the impasse over coalition formation is indeed related to classic issues of federalism: how to divide the national wealth and the extent to which citizens of a richer region perceive themselves to be subsidizing the less wealthy citizens in other units of the federation.

Huge obstacles remain and neither side is budging. Flemish parties insist that regional governments must have more autonomy. With 60 percent of the population, Flanders generates 70 percent of Belgium’s Gross Domestic Product. The Dutch speaking area wants to retain more power and tax money, rather than sending it south.

Wallonia’s politicians are resisting this, partly because they see it as the first step toward dividing the country, which Walloons oppose in large numbers.

Just to keep things interesting, Angus Reid has asked people in the Netherlands if they would welcome Flanders back into the fold. They are “divided” on the question.
Thanks to Andrés for sending me the first item linked above.

0 thoughts on “All we want is a government

  1. Belgium has a government. It is, however, an “emergency” government for a short term, to ensure the passage of acts—like the 2008 budget–that require a non-caretaker government to be in power. So, as Ingrid Robeyns, writing at Crooked Timber, notes, it is more of a “time out” to the 191-day crisis than a solution to it.

  2. Not just an emergency government, it says here, but a grand coalition with 101 of the 150 seats so that it has the necessary 2/3 majority to amend the constitution and reform the state.

    It has a temporary prime minister and cabinet. “After Easter, Yves Leterme of the Flemish Christian-Democrats will take over Mr Verhofstadt’s office and establish a ‘normal’ government.”

    The 192-day delay was precisely because an emergency government was not wanted. The basic Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition would have had 81 of the 150 seats, but it never took office because some of its partners insisted on fundamental changes.

    So now Belgium has a coalition of its three largest parties, or more precisely, two and a half of them: Liberals, Christian Democrats, and the francophone half of the socialists, who hold 20 of the 62 francophone seats. The Flemish half of the socialists hold only 14 of the 88 Flemish seats, after losing 9 seats back on June 10th, and are out in the cold with the 17 Vlaams Belang members, the 12 Greens, and 6 others.

    A bi-national country is hard to govern. Oddly, this new coalition has 53 francophones and only 48 Flemish deputies, all charged with making concessions to the Flemish majority to stop them from wanting to secede from a country in which they are the majority. Got it?

  3. PM Leterme has resigned: his ambitions to lead a federal government could not be reconciled with the demands of his party (CD&V).
    No one had a clue how to form a new federal government, and new elections are not a legally sound option: one of the issues dividing Flemish and french-speaking politicians is the fate of the Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde electoral district, which was declared unconstitutional in 2003.

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