Poor Belgium! Poor Europe!

 

In previous papers, I have often suggested that Belgium could be a source of inspiration for Europe. Unfortunately, the recent declarations concerning the political future of the country indicate that the reverse is more likely: Belgium is mimicking the European quagmire and will be shortly confronted with similar difficulties.

 

Indeed, the surprise announcement concerning the negotiations surrounding regional governments in Wallonia and Brussels – without waiting for an agreement at federal level – is the expression of the same regional nationalism as the one condemned when proffered by the northern “separatists”. There is also a total absence of consideration of the implications relative to EU membership. This attitude has provoked (deliberately?) a Flemish response translated in an alliance between the “nationalist” NVA and the centre right Christian Democrats (CDNV) in Flanders, thus killing any possibility of forming compatible majorities at both federal and regional levels.

 

The message conveyed by the polls, both in the north and the south, was that such majorities were very much preferred: the northern partners in the federal government actually won seats while the significant progress of the NVA was totally attributable to the defeat of the extremist Vlaamse Belang party; in the south the federal majority was also comforted, mainly by significant gains of the Liberal Party (MR).

 

Despite the electoral promises, no account whatsoever has been taken of the voice expressed by the people, even if it is abusive to hurl invectives of a denial of democracy: the legitimacy of these purely political decisions stems directly from the system of proportional representation. The message was nevertheless perfectly clear: the elector did not want a repeat of a prolonged governmental crisis.

 

Outside of such a “blockage” at federal level, three alternatives present themselves, each containing heavy risks concerning the future of the country:

 

In the first, the socialist party (PS) would be excluded from the federal majority; the southern Christian Democrats (CDH), adopting a schizophrenic posture, would partake in a federal government dominated by the right of centre, a regional Walloon government lead by the socialists and an “opportunist” mixed alliance for Brussels PS-CDH-FDF). For such a scenario to succeed, the Liberals – whose statesmanlike attitude in sacrificing their former alliance with the FDF is widely acknowledged as the key to solving the former institutional stalemate – would have to accept to be slapped across the other cheek!

 

Put in such an awkward position, it should rather be tempted by the second solution: set up a purely centre-right federal government in which only the MR would represent the south and Brussels. This should guarantee it 7 ministerial posts and a strong option on the Premiership. This solution would not reopen the question of further institutional reform, firmly refused by the MR, but – as demanded by many – ensure that social and economic matters become the priority; it could open the way for a deep fiscal reform from which few would regret the absence of the socialists. However, the capacity for such a government to operate efficiently – as under the outgoing team – would be severely compromised. The risk of continuously “ringing the alarm bell” would make the current controversy over aircraft corridors over Brussels seem like a pick-nick. More seriously, what would happen when it comes to apportion budgetary efforts required by the EU between the federal and regional governments? How long will it take financial markets and rating agencies to react?

 

The third option, which I suspect is the choice of the Socialists, aims at reproducing within the federal executive the same political split prevailing at regional level (NVA/CDNV coupled with PS/CDH/FDF). This choice would de facto be the acknowledgement of the existence of a Belgian “Confederation” and constitute an unmistakable complete victory for the NVA separatists. It would appear that the socialists have made their own the saying: “rather be the first in Wallonia than second in Belgium”. The parallelism with Europe is striking: between budgetary rigour as a precondition for solidarity incarnated by the German Chancellor and solidarity in order to mitigate the pain of structural reforms as professed by President Hollande, the chiasm is perfectly reproduced by the positions of Bart de Wever and Elio di Rupo.

 

From the standpoint of the Kingdom, this solution is the worst possible because it prepares quite openly the partition of the country. From now on, the NVA is no longer be the only party that bears responsibility for separatism. I already pointed out previously that the implosion of the EU was the necessary precondition to a breakup of Belgium. It seems that the PS and the CDH have accepted this eventuality; that makes both parties (together with the NVA) the objective allies of all “euro sceptics” which puts them in flagrant opposition to the mandate delivered by the polls.

 

This solution is all the more absurd that it is incompatible with the necessary “federalisation” of the Eurozone if the € (and therefore the EU) is to survive. It might have made sense within the context of a deep Treaty change instituting a “Europe of the Regions” and dispensing with national governments but such an evolution remains very distant. What some may characterise as deliberate “anticipation” is only complicating the European debate and reinforces the scenario of implosion. Europe did not deserve to be confronted in such a way by one of its Founding Members.

 

One can go on blaming endlessly the other for the lowly political manoeuvrings that have seemingly rendered the current situation inevitable, but in reality it only reinforces the disgust of citizens for the political class, the responsibility for which is shared by all political parties alike.

 

In this detestable environment, there seems to be only one person left who keeps putting the interests of the country in the forefront of his preoccupations: H.M. the King. The decisions taken recently by the PS and CDH are certainly not making his task any easier!

 

Lorgues, June 9th 2014

 

Paul N. Goldschmidt

Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.

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