Tuesday, September 11, 2007
All’s not well in the kingdom of Belgium. Three months after the general elections, we are closer to general political mayhem than to a functioning government. Given the fines you can get here for not voting (is mandatory here) or not showing up when you’re selected for polling station duty, you’d think that you’d be served quickly.
Not that strong and lengthy discussions are rare here. We have loads of political parties here, for one because every political family here is split into a French speaking and a Flemish speaking party. There’s no ‘winner takes all’ here, every government is a coalition and compromising is a way of living here for politicians. As a consequence, no-one really knows what’s going on anymore. We have a state that is utterly complicated and its difficult to see the differences between the ideas of most political parties because their programmes overlap so much.
So to distinguish themselves, a couple of Flemish parties decided to try to win the voters’ vote by pretending they could single-handedly end the eternal strife between the Flemish and French-speaking parties by simply telling those bloody Walloons how things are going to run from now on. They called this ‘good government’.
The Walloons – not as stupid as they may look at first glance – thought it was not a good idea to be dictated what to do and what not, and surprisingly blocked the coalition talks. How quaint! It doesn’t help either that the leader of the Flemish Christian-democrat/nationalist cartel insists on insulting the people south of the language barrier.
This trouble between the Flemish and French speaking parties is not new. What is new – and worrying – is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone anymore that understands the importance of collaboration between the different parts of the country. We may speak two languages here (actually three, we have a couple of thousand of German speaking hobbyists as well), but economically we are but one region. To split it requires nuclear precision and doesn’t make any sense. People move around, economic and social development comes and goes and the situation constantly evolves over time. Some politicians used to realise this, and they were always able to glue things together. But now it seems that the glue is missing.
Another thing is that both politicians and the media – at least in my part of the country – seem to pretend that splitting is not only feasible, but also easy. Newspapers and TV stations present different scenarios and dubious polls.
I work at a bilingual organisation. My boss speaks French, our bigger boss speaks Dutch, our biggest boss speaks Dutch, about half of my colleagues speak French. Not everyone’s knowledge of the other language is perfect, but there are language courses and they are popular. And most importantly, we get along fine and when we have discussions, it is never about language.
What could I win when Belgium splits in two (or three, or four)? I’d have to take an ‘international’ train from where I live (Antwerp) to the foreign country of Brussels/Wallonia. For your information: that’s a 40km ride. Maybe I won’t need an international passport, a visa or a work permit – after all we do live in Europe. But you can bet I will need to pay taxes in both countries. I will have to adapt to two sets of legislation. And I’m not the only one, because hundreds of thousands of Flemish people work in Brussels (which is a predominantly French speaking region).
So can someone kick those ballooning egos under the butt and find us some reasonable people?