Saturday, 22 March 2008

Belgian Waffle

This is just a quick post for those who are perhaps not that happy with the concept of minority Government which has been in existence in Scotland since last May's election. It seems our continental friends in Belgium have finally found a way out of the deadlock which ensued after their election on 10 June 2007 (which North to Leith has covered in detail here). A government was finally formed on Thursday (20 March), a full 9 months after the election itself. Complicated not only by partisan differences but divided into linguistic communities, the 284-day negotiations over a new government were finally over when Yves Leterme was sworn in as Belgium's new Prime Minister.

One of the main issues which still divides the government is how much autonomy to give to the regions, with a disproportionate amount set to be handed to Dutch-speaking Flanders. The new PM Leterme is a Flemish Christian Democrat is in favour of more devolved powers and has threatened to quit by July if his constitutional reforms are voted down. However, with his reforms are likely to hit French-speaking Wallonia, with its high-unemployment & slow economy, harder than his home region of Flanders.

An interesting problem for the state which is home to the European Parliament. For is it a nation-state, or a state split into two nations? What will be the case in the future if Leterme's reforms are passed? Will Belgium split into Flanders and Wallonia - which, to all intents and purposes, it is already?

Feeding into the linguistic dimension of the "Belgian problem" is the fact that Flanders is, on the whole, much wealthier, with less unemployment and a higher growth rate than its French-speaking regional neighbour Wallonia. Within the context of a nation-state, to what extent does one region have a moral obligation to "look after" its economically weaker neighbour? Wouldn't the larger, more economically advanced region start to resent subsidising its "free-riding" neighbour?

It is true that we now live in an international community, where what goes on in one state/ country/ region/ community has some bearing on what goes on in another. But organisation of political affairs needs to take the most appropriate form, and if that means dividing nation-states further into regional-nation-states then that is the course of action which should be undertaken.


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